A pilot therapeutic dance project has been set up by Look Ahead, who support people with learning disabilities to live independent lives, to address the immense social isolation, exclusion and loss of confidence felt by many people with a learning disability and autism during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The dance group, all of whom live with learning disabilities, have been taking part in dance activities for over a year and have experienced noticeable improvements in their confidence to go out and socialise, express themselves and participate in the wider community.

To celebrate Learning Disability Week and the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, the dance company gathered in Whitechapel last week for their first public performance funded by the East End Community Foundation and Arts Council England.

The pilot is the brainchild of Georgina Caird, a professional dancer who joined Look Ahead as a Support Worker in January 2021 after a career in music videos and Bollywood films. Her work uses dance movement psychotherapy techniques and approaches and aims.

Positive response to dance activities

Ms Caird who usually supports customers with learning disabilities and autism at a 24-hour supported housing service in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea started leading dance activities just a short while into her new role. The project came to be after customers responded positively to dancing.

She said: “Two months in, I started planning customer activities and a couple showed interest in dancing. I taught them a few moves and later noticed one of them practicing in the lounge on the CCTV. We started regular sessions and eventually got a group of eight. It has had a huge impact, I particularly enjoyed seeing a very shy customer start to engage, teach us about his culture and share some moves of his own."

Ms Caird has since started an MA course in Dance Movement Psychotherapy with support from Look Ahead. Georgina’s studies prompted her to start the pilot across eight of the charity’s learning disability services with funding from the East End Community Foundation and Arts Council England as part of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations in the capital. With this funding the project has been expanded and now includes around forty-five dancers, several of whom have increased their self-confidence by participating to the extent that they are now looking at moving on to independent living.

She added: “It has been amazing to see the impact that the pilot has had on the confidence of so many of our customers. I really hope that we can expand this offer across Look Ahead, whether learning disability and autism, mental health, forensic, domestic violence, homelessness or young people’s services.”