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DANCING MEMORIES
Virtual Art Snacks artist-in-residence at Blayney MPS

As part of the Virtual Art Snacks program – which was otherwise designed to be largely delivered via teleconferencing technology – there was an in-person artist-in-residence component at Blayney MPS.

In 2023 artist facilitator Catherine McNamara visited Blayney MPS weekly over 12 weeks to deliver the activities and engage with the residents.

Our thanks to the staff and residents at Blayney MPS for their ongoing enthusiasm for the program.

Here’s a story on the Blayney residency on the NSW health website.

On this page is

  • Cath’s reflection on the program
  • a short video (made by Greer Films) (8 min)
  • photos (by Pat Greer, Greer Films)

Dancing Memories: Artist iN residence reflections

By Cath McNamara

For eight years I have worked across physical and dance theatre, theatre for children/ young people, as a performing arts facilitator for people living with disabilities and a disability support worker.

Since 2020 I have led Dance/Performance workshops for ‘Virtual Art Snacks’ with Arts OutWest for aged care residents living in Multi-Purpose Service (MPS) sites across the Western NSW Local Health District. These started as virtual sessions delivered via laptop, expanding to include face to face sessions and residencies.

From May- July 2023 I was Artist-in-Residence for twelve weeks at Blayney MPS.  I worked with Allied Health Staff the Activities Officers and Diversional Therapists leading residents in contemporary dance activities, visualisation exercises, coordination practice, making/learning choreography, devising scripts and storytelling.

Three key approaches emerged from the Residency; moving with meaning, dancing memories and deep listening.

MOVING WITH MEANING

The methodology used was largely drawn from my training in ‘BodyWeather’, a dance method that began in Japan with butoh dancer Min Tanaka and his Mai-Juku dance company. BodyWeather utilises sensory environments and stimuli to access movements in both the body and imagination, in a sort of feedback loop. Successful aspects of the process included;

  • Movement used as the jumping off point for each session- this approach reduced inhibitions leading to deeper conversations and willingness to engage.
  • Avoid labelling any of the warm-up movements series as “exercise” (understanding that this term may carry baggage for people living with pain, or who do not feel motivated to exercise)
  • Exploratory and Intuitive methodology- I used images of animals, nature, or landscapes as stimulus, inviting residents to stretch/move their bodies in response. For example, in pairs, one person would hold a toilet roll/telescope to their eye and simply follow the movement of the other partners’ finger guiding them through space. One woman told me she could actually see a lot better using the toilet roll, “I can finally see things when I use this thing… yes, I see much better with it” she said.

DANCING OUR MEMORIES

  • The beauty of combining contemporary dance methods with their personal stories helped participants see and experience value when their ordinary movements were adapted into dance. The method was relatable, and easily adopted as a way to preserve their own stories and the stories of others. “Our brains are really going!”, one resident commented.
  • By repeating movements, slightly abstracting them or putting them against a beat, the residents really did discover that what they had offered could become DANCING. Over time the residents themselves began to recognise the ‘choreography’ of their stories. They would tell me a tale from the past, then notice they had moved their hands, then say “we could use that as a dance move”.
  • Constant encouragement and positivity is essential. Residents relaxed over time. They stopped searching for the “right answer”, or being frustrated when details or elements of the story did not emerge, focusing instead on the parts that did, validated by the movements they chose to tell their own story.

DEEP LISTENING

It was crucial to listen to what the residents enjoyed/wanted, as much as sharing my methods with them. They requested favourite songs and games and this informed how I programmed each workshop. Their suggestions were integrated with my processes and this reflective and iterative process is how the group developed a working language together.

  • For example, one of our oldest residents wanted to play Simon Says, everyone was extremely engaged and concentrating hard so as not to be caught out. Inspired by this, the following week I played videos of Laurel and Hardy and introduced the concept of status by playing high/low status drama games. This started a lively discussion, about status roles in society, leading to improvisational play in pairs. This flow-  the two-way, reciprocal, emergent nature of the  workshops  – back and forth between the leader and residents was fundamental to the success of the residency. The Diversional Therapist said, “… They really trust you now. I can see that sense of trust.”

SUMMARY

The Artist-in-Residence program significantly expanded the processes and language established during the online sessions supporting me to explore my arts practice in a far more detailed and productive manner. I was able to connect deeply with each individual, and connect through the targeted common goal of exploring dance, drama and storytelling as a group. For the residents, working with an artist in person created a sense of purpose and challenge. Some residents talked about  “getting better” after connecting, laughing and engaging in a workshop. One participant said, “…we can go ‘round the wards… maybe we’ll cheer them up so much, they’ll all get better!” The Diversional Therapist reiterated, “….it’s very successful because of the ‘wow factor’. You don’t come in all the time, so they see it as special. There is a sense of anticipation and excitement.”

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Moving with Meaning – Arts experiences can create new pathways and entry points for positive health outcomes including improved exercise, circulation, and co-ordination.
  • Dancing our Memories – Their lived experiences translated into movement made the ephemeral into something physical and tangible. It provided extra tools to preserve their stories and repeat them – with self, peers and allied health staff. There was also pride in teaching others the moves.
  • Deep Listening – A crucial part of my practice was the genuine and concerted effort to ‘check in’ properly so that each individual felt seen/heard.  It was important to meet them exactly where they were at. I believe this built trust between myself and the group and confidence that we would all simply try our best whilst accepting how our bodies/minds may be feeling that day.
  • Residue – The movement and dancing continued beyond the sessions. For example, one resident had to leave suddenly one day. As she stood up to go, another cheeky resident yelled out “Well! You’d better be dancing on the toilet!” You simply couldn’t write it better.
Three key approaches emerged from the Residency; moving with meaning, dancing memories and deep listening.

When: Over 12 weeks in 2023

Where: Blayney MPS (residential aged care)

Program: Virtual Art Snacks

Artist: Catherine McNamara

Partner: Western NSW Local Health District

Funding: the Australian Government’s Regional Arts Fund

IMAGE: Blayney MPS residents, Lillian Ross, Burt Witherford and artist Catherine McNamara Photo credit: Greer Films.