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Restoring my Spirit:

A personal account of dance after an eating disorder

Community dance
Life enhancing

I have been involved in integrated dance projects as a volunteer for the past year. These have taken place in special schools, colleges and in community and leisure centres. They have brought together a wide range of people with learning disabilities with artists, choreographers and musicians in sessions where participants have engaged in creative movement and found within this unique experiences.

I have witnessed how community dance can have a life enhancing effect on all participants. I have found there have been real benefits for myself. Having been at a point where I was seriously ill, participation has contributed to my full recovery, it has helped in the following ways;

The experience has widened opportunities available to me. I have been included in various artistic activities which as a non-professional and someone removed from the dance scene I would usually have no part in. I have been involved with a group called Magpie Dance where there has been artistic collaboration. Illness creates further barriers to different experience outside it in my own experience, but during my recovery and involvement with dance activities in the community I have not felt at a disadvantage or excluded in any way. The ethos is clearly access for all.

I have gained a degree of self-respect, partly through feeling valued and accepted within sessions. In all relationships I am treated as an equal and not as a condition. I am not judged on account of my past history and find the atmosphere is of total acceptance. This reflects the way that no participant is excluded from a full enjoyment and involvement in the work. There is no distinction between able bodied and disabled people performing or taking part in a class, everyone does the same exercises in community classes and on projects whether teachers, students, volunteers, artists. It is important that everyone can participate to the level they are capable of with as much assistance as needed.

As I have felt part of a group, whether in workshops, or of Magpie dance, it has helped me establish some form of identity and find friends. This is different from my general feeling of being very isolated when I was unwell. A sense of group identity and belonging is strong. Children sometimes not at ease with each other in their classes at school through participating in workshops on residencies have made unexpected connections with each other and have been more involved in a class than their teachers experience them usually. Classes vary in number on every occasion and the number is never overwhelming. Even in a larger class participants can try different partnerships and have special encounters and interaction with one another.

Community dance is liberating. Dance for me gives the freedom to express myself and there is no judgment or interpretation of the result. In community classes and group sessions there can be a lot of improvisation individually or in groups and you feel uninhibited since there is no competition or analysis brought into sessions. The work is stimulating. Classes are always very active and can be energetic. Physical exercise has helped improve my health and enabled me to see what my body can do as a creative, expressive tool. I used to feel disassociated from my body and feelings as a result of suffering acutely from anorexia. I feel more connected and aware of my body and physical sensations now. Floor work in the sessions involves massage which shows how your body can be stimulated and bring pleasure not just discomfort which used to be a constant feeling for me. Dance in community settings seems to have a healing power, this is true for myself and with others in the classes who I've seen become visibly less troubled and on the periphery of the space always. The movement workshops are recognised as important therapy, this is acknowledged by large organisations and day centres providing a service in the community, alike.

I have changed in ways I could not have, or others who know me, imagined. The experiences I hold have renewed my love for the arts. Socially I feel a lot more confident even in large groups of people.

In sessions where the numbers are quite high they still provide a safe space. Workshops usually begin with all participants sitting in a circle passing around a sensory prop and introducing themselves. I realise what an achievement this is where it is possible and involves participants who have some level of autism.
I find dance a way of communicating with others which is a new discovery for me. People within the groups cannot always express themselves directly where they lack verbal communication skills. However, members of the group in each instance respond in other ways and you need to be as sensitive and open with them as with someone who can express their needs verbally. Another aspect of communication is that it can express and release inner feelings, for me sessions have provided an escape from intense therapy I have been receiving as part of my recovery. Dance has been an outlet for feelings and a safe space.
In all the work I feel fortunate to have shared with people and to have a part in the experience. I found my role was as a group member not as a patient and that everyone has respect and sensitivity towards each other within the movement sessions. It marks a new beginning in my life and has restored my former spirit and personality.


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