This month, by popular request, we are returning to visit several Care Homes in Leeds with The Whistlestop Tour of Dances from around the World, following a successful tour last year through Leeds Inspired.

Years pass by and thoughts turn to age. I celebrated my birthday last weekend and as a leapling, this means I get to reflect on growing older at least once every 4 years. Of course, we are all growing old together.

As a choreographer, I find it deeply rewarding to work with older artists. Younger dancers naturally gravitate to dance companies, fresh from graduation, at the peak of physical fitness, and keen to take on the world. At Balbir Singh Dance Company, things are no different and we are a place that has welcomed many young dancers over the years. However, whilst the youthful exuberance of early-career dancers is a joy, we also have a focus on nurturing older performers. We all have potential, and older performers always give a boost to the whole company. They have their worldly knowledge to impart and can teach us a lot about the body and about the world. Our productions and projects are invariably built around a theme, and the insights of older performers are unsurpassable. They come into their own when we are looking at issues such as climate change, language, sport, love, and community.

‘Celebrating Age’ is a strand of our creative programme that showcases the artistry of older performers, such as skater Gary Beacom, who recently turned 60 and is a close collaborator on new work. We still enjoy close connections with Padmashri Guru Pratap Pawar and Namron, both giants in the world of dance, both in their mid-70s, who still continue to perform and inspire artists and audiences of all ages. Bisakha Sarker is bringing rich insight and worldly wisdom to new solo work being created with Sooraj Subramaniam – Reflections of an Indian Dancer.

We not only embrace working with professional performers of all ages, but we also want to reach audiences of all ages. It is vital for us to tour on our doorstep, in local communities. Older people, in particular, experience barriers to arts attendance. Our creative learning manager Kimberley Hardy is keen to catch up with the residents she met last year and to share new work from BSDC with them.

We’ve selected a new piece from our repertoire ‘Whistle-Stop Tour of Folk Dance from Around the World,’ which was created with a group of artists and producers of all ages and developed following feedback from the audience at Preston Park Museum, Stockton. The piece is a series of quick-changing interlinked scenes, tantalising glimpses into folk and traditional dance from different cultures and communities. Dance in all its guises, from around the world – from Ireland to India, Scotland to Poland – brings our Care Home audience a diverse, creative experience that is rich, illuminating and fun.

Care Homes Leeds 2020

Our audience in Leeds Care Homes will have a chance to join in, to critique our work, and, crucially, to dance themselves.

Recent reports from the Department of Health recommend movement as being essential to our older citizens. Movement at any level brings known health benefits.

  • Older people who take part in any amount of physical activity gain health benefits, including both physical and cognitive benefits.
  • Older people should undertake physical activity to improve their muscle strength on at least two days a week.
  • Older adults at risk of falls should incorporate physical activity to improve balance and coordination on at least two days a week.
  • All older adults should minimise the amount of time spent sitting, movement helps older people maintain physical functioning.

Dance, as we know, is more than movement. It is creative expression, a synthesis of mind, body and feeling. Having arts available is key to a good, generous life. So, alongside our performance, the residents will take centre stage in a dance workshop facilitated by our dancers. The benefits of taking part in creative activity cannot be underestimated. There is no more rewarding work than teaching graceful Kathak hand movements on a cold March morning to a group of our older citizens. These events in the community, full of humour and generosity, teach us how time, memory and the here-and-now interact. The live experience of dance is inspiring and as we blur the boundary between audience and performer, everyone dances together. Everyone learns together. This is what reshapes our world.

Balbir Singh, 5th March 2020