Headway’s Vice President and brain injury survivor, James Cracknell, is strutting his stuff on Strictly Come Dancing. But you don’t need to be a contestant on Strictly to enjoy the benefits of dancing following a brain injury.
Read on for some toe-tapping top tips to get you dancing after brain injury!
We spoke to research fellow, Dr Gemma-Collard Stokes, about the ways in which dancing may benefit brain injury survivors.
She told us: “What we have in dance is a uniquely rich sensorial experience that combines physical, cognitive and socially stimulating activities.
“Imagine the brain to house a library of stored movement 'books' with a reference system which enables one part of the nervous system to locate the other through a pathway that connects them both.
“Research suggests that brain injury interrupts this library, causing the stored movements to fall from their shelves and the reference system to break down. The pathways become unstable or lost, effectively losing and disrupting movement function. Yet those 'books' never left the library. They still remain but they now need the brain to create a new reference system.
“Stimulating our sensory systems through dance can assist in the process of rebuilding the pathways between cognition and our motor skills, this is promising news in terms of what dance might offer neuroplasticity - the brain's facility to move functions from a damaged area of the brain to an undamaged area.
“Following brain injury, our brain constantly recalculates how much energy it will take to carry out each function. When energy demands are too great on the brain, it causes our movements to become abnormal: tremors, stiffness of muscles, effect on balance or pace.
“This question has prompted dance practitioners to address this problem by seeking new ways around fatigue, to explore creative movement activities that do not require so much effort yet still produce the rich rehabilitation effects encountered in the act of dancing.”
Attending a dance class can be a great way to get out the house, have fun and meet new people.
Most dance classes will welcome new members, regardless of dance ability. Dance classes are something your local sports or community centre might offer so consider contacting them. You may also find something suitable by searching for local dance classes on Google or Facebook.
Chances are you can easily find a dance class catering for adults nearby. However finding one with a rehabilitation focus might be more challenging.
some Headway groups and branches offer dance classes. Contact your local group to see if this is something they already offer, or something they could look into offering in the future.
You can also click here to find a list of disability-related dance companies that specialise in making dance more accessible for people with disabilities.
You could also consider speaking with your doctor, physiotherapist or occupational therapist to see if they can recommend any classes, or perhaps even some dance moves you can practice at home.
We spoke to Sara Rose who is a Trainee Dance and Movement Psychotherapist at Headway Derby.
Sara told us: “I have a particular interest in working with people living with brain injury with a therapeutic approach based in movement. Often following a brain injury people experience a loss of connection with their body and speak of feeling isolated or feeling misunderstood by their friends and family.
“Headway Derby has introduced Dance and Movement Psychotherapy (DMP). Members who joined the DMP sessions have had the opportunity to work in a safe space to explore the movement their body can make and to discuss issues that are important to them.
“Together we move and dance using props and themes, sometimes with music, sometimes without. The experience of moving together supports creativity and connectivity and brings about shared experience as each member is able to explore their breath, their senses, their movement and their connections between self and others.
“Dancing and moving together helps with memory as the movement builds a scaffolding of new movement narrative that can be built on each session. Members have spoken of improved balance and co-ordination as they practice moving around the space with the support of myself and other members.
“The DMP sessions have proven to be successful and accessible and will be continuing for another year as we continue to capture and evidence the benefits of dancing and moving together after acquiring a brain injury.”
Headway East London also has its service-users throwing a few shapes.
We spoke to them about their adaptive dance groups and an ambitious new dance project.
“Here at Headway East London, we have been delivering two adaptive dance groups per week for our members which are run by a physiotherapist and therapy assistant,” said Fiona Allen, physiotherapist.
“We have also recently received Postcode Lottery funding which has enabled us to embark on a year-long collaborative project with studio Wayne McGregor. This will involve input from professional dance artists/choreographers as well as workshops at their dance space.
“The aim of our project is to develop dance and creative movement for brain injury survivors, and also create a digital resource pack which can be used to help guide the future delivery of dance groups at Headway and beyond.
“We have introduced a couple of open workshops called ‘Wild Fusion’ which involved the collaboration of our art studio and musicians along with improvised movement and dance. This promotes individual self-expression and exploration of movement, as well as creating a sense of teamwork and inclusion for all.
“Our groups involve a warm-up and general introduction activities, as well as a mix of partner work, use of props such as ribbons, improvisation, journeying/storytelling, gesture, voice and routines. The groups are enjoyable and provide a workout. They build confidence and tap into imagination and creativity away from impairments.”
It makes you feel good... I like to sing and dance, it gives you a rhythm.
- Headway East London service-user, Theresa
Watch Headway East London's video to see its members showing off their moves!
I love dancing. Since my head injury I enjoy it because it’s helped my balance and core strength. It’s a real test on my memory though, learning choreography can cause migraines and make my chronic fatigue more frequent and longer lasting.
- George Cotterill
Following my brain injury I took up Morris dancing. It was challenging at first, and I had to write down the figures over and over again. However, its given me a great social life and has let the exhibitionist inside me to be released as part of a team.
- Judith Betts, Headway Darlington
I used dancing classes in my recovery! Although I have forgotten most, I still love watching others dance. It helped my balance and coordination and gave me confidence with other people.
- Stuart Shaw, Headway Falkirk
I'm always up on the dance floor with my wife since my brain injury. I seem to have come out my shell. We both really enjoy ourselves. I wasn't so keen before. It's very therapeutic.
- Duncan McRitchie
When Scottie Elliott met Katie at their very first beginners Lindy Hop dance lesson, he had a strong feeling they were fated to be together.
Their love blossomed over the next six months, but was put to the ultimate test when Scottie sustained a traumatic brain injury.
"I was unable to walk, but dreamed of dancing again," said Scottie.
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