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Ballet dancer Andrew Greenwood: 'Healthcare needs dance'

'What is the relevance of dance?' Since the conference The Relevance of Dance in March 2016, this question has been haunting my mind. Above all, I want to know why more people should dance. Therefore, I decide to put the question to inspiring and progressive dance teachers. The second one I question is Andrew Greenwood, who six months ago co-founded the foundation of Dance for Creative Wellness has established.

On a rainy autumn afternoon, we meet at the theatre cafe of Castellum Hoge Woerd in Utrecht Leidsche Rijn. Andrew Greenwood immediately starts talking enthusiastically about his new projects. During the conversation, it becomes clear that Greenwood has a great entrepreneurial spirit. He shows himself to be extremely aware of the political and economic climate: dance companies are struggling with disappearing subsidies, while more and more money is being made available for preventive health care and vitality programmes:

'The fact that I now give so many workshops at dance companies [to people with illnesses] is not because I am such a famous ballet master, but because they understand that they need to strengthen the relationship with the local community. The seats in the theatre have to be filled, preferably with as diverse an audience as possible.'

After your career as a professional ballet dancer, you worked as a ballet master. You immersed yourself in injury prevention and rehabilitation of dancers. Why did their health spark your interest?

'I discovered that many dancers were walking around with injuries, but in the 1990s the adage was "take a painkiller, put some ice on it and dance on". That sparked my interest in injury prevention. Internationally, there was also increasing attention to this and IADMS[hints]International Association for Dance Science & Medicine, founded in the United States in 1990,[/hints] increasingly well known. Nowadays, there are more recorded absences due to injuries, but not because there are more injuries. Awareness has simply increased that injuries require treatment.'

On your website, you say "...not only [does] Dance need Health, but Health needs dance." Why does health need dance?

'In the Netherlands, 30% are permanent patients, accounting for 90% of the annual healthcare budget. By 2020, due to our sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diet, we will face an epidemic of Alzheimer's, diabetes and other diseases resulting from inactivity and lack of brain stimulation. This represents a huge cost to society and is a major concern of policymakers. If the situation worsens, there are not enough financial resources to cover the costs. Policymakers have therefore come up with the idea of personalized healthcare, but health insurers do not know how to offer it.

Cultural doctor's prescription

Getting people moving through dance is one way to improve their well-being and reduce costs, but dance is often not seen as part of the solution. In the UK, a new initiative called cultural prescription. That means a doctor can prescribe a patient a dance class or, say, a pottery course. That is very cool, but is often not prescribed. People in the healthcare sector often do not understand how art and culture contribute to people's well-being. Doctors do a good job, but unfortunately are not sufficiently aware of what dance can do for their patients.

In addition, dance is often seen as frivolous - either only for professional dancers. Dancing is often not seen as part of everyday life. I have also heard people say "I can't dance", but those people are now also our greatest ambassadors and enjoy dancing!'

What does dance do for people? How does it contribute to their well-being?

'Before I Dance for Creative Wellness founded, I was associated with Dance for Health. Together with Marc Vlemmix, I have developed dance programmes for people with Parkinson's disease. Dancing not only gives people with Parkinson's disease tools to cope with their symptoms and creatively solve everyday challenges, it also slows down the progression of the disease! People with a diagnosis used to be told not to move anymore because it would not be good. It is also understandable that people whose bodies are slowly failing them do not initially understand that moving more is going to be the solution. It goes against their intuition. Yet dancing really does help.

Beer belly

Dance is also valuable for people with office jobs. If the gentleman with the beer belly knew that he could do something about his health without having to go to the gym, sweat, change his clothes or give up his beer - although that would be even better - he would surely do it. With just a few simple dance moves, you stimulate your body and your hormones. Then you'll be good to go for the rest of the day. By moving a few minutes every 20 minutes, you live four to five years longer.'

How did the idea for the foundation Dance for Creative Wellness arise?

'A year ago I got into a conversation with Clare Guss-West, who organised dance classes for older people at The Royal Opera House. We found out that there are so many different inspiring initiatives in the field of dance and well-being that we wanted to do more with them. We then contacted those initiatives and met with people from 27 institutions from Europe at the National Opera & Ballet in Amsterdam in March this year to discuss what we could do together.'

And what are you going to do?

'Four objectives emerged from this meeting. First, we want to validate dance and make it clear why dance is so important to people who don't dance themselves. It is often difficult for dancers, whose art form is non-verbal, to explain in words the value of dance. That is where we want to help. For example, by helping to disseminate relevant research and working together different partners, such as dance artists, scientists and doctors.


This is why we are also organising the conference Dancing Wellness, The Role of Dance in Lifelong Healthy Living  (2 and 3 December 2016 in London). It is a conference with many practical workshops, through which we especially want to show what initiatives already exist in Europe in the field of dance and well-being. We especially hope that people from the healthcare sector will attend so that we can convince them of the value of dance.

In addition, we want to offer education and training to bring dance to as many people as possible. That is why I spend in my own trainings also a day to entrepreneurship. As a dance teacher because you have a responsibility to your students. You can't set up a class for people with an illness and then suddenly be gone, because those people are partly dependent on you for their well-being!'

One last question... What is the relevance of dance?

'Fun! People dance primarily because they enjoy it so much. Unfortunately, fun is often missing in dance classes, but dancing should be fun for everyone. That's why a few years ago I 73 short ballet class videos recorded so that anyone around the world can take ballet lessons. That's how I ended up giving a private ballet lesson to a group of Iranian housewives via Skype. Dancing is forbidden there, but because they like ballet so much, they secretly dance in their garage!'

Jacqueline de Kuijper

Jacqueline de Kuijper is a dance scientist and co-founder of Change Your Rhythm, a consultancy that aims to increase employee well-being through movement in the workplace. Her interests include the importance of movement for cognitive and mental well-being and the relevance of dance to society.View Author posts

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