Project round-up By Clare Parker

Lead Dance Artist
Arts on Call, Torbay Team

November 2021

Our last session of what has been a year long programme of Arts on Call in Torbay, and a time to reflect on what a joyful project it has been! Its been wonderful to collaborate with the Arts on Call team from Dance in Devon and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; and a joy to work with musician Hugh Nankivell and dance artist Maya Adams in Torbay. Throughout 2021 and through all the lock downs, we have had the privilege of singing and dancing outside the homes of Torbay’s older residents – in gardens and on patios with residents, staff and visitors in care homes; and with friends and neighbours in streets and parks. 

Arts on Call Torbay team (left to right: Maya Adams, Hugh Nankivell, Clare Parker)

I am reflecting on the ingredients that make this project so special. The impromptu and up close nature of the visits (and homemade low budget costumes and signs!) create both a sense of occasion and light-hearted fun, encouraging residents and staff to connect with us and join in, singing and tapping hands and feet, following dance moves and chatting with us and each other. Although sometimes the reflections can make it hard to see through the windows, wherever possible we try to make eye contact and smile and interact with everyone in the room; and Hugh is brilliant at learning everyone’s names and incorporating them into the songs. Over the year staff have often tearfully told us how much this means when there have been so many long months of isolation and a lack of something new to break up the daily routines.

Performing and talking to residents

The staff in Torbay’s care homes are phenomenal and have done their utmost to enable our visits to happen, supporting the residents to take part, even through all the challenges that covid and bad weather might throw at things! We re-visited several homes over the year with a new repertoire each time and it was so lovely to get to know people over the visits, and to see that gradually the severe challenges of covid were lessening as vaccines came in and restrictions on visits eased. It was great to see that windows and doors could be opened more; and sometimes residents came out and joined us outside, feeling the fresh air and sun on their faces, always blanketed up and kept cosy by the staff. 

Although we had a set list of songs and choreography built around a theme, we would often go off piste and mix things up, take requests for songs, shorten or lengthen the set in line with the cold or rain, and depending on how engaged people were. Hugh brought his ingenuity and skill, personalising songs with each group, and sometimes doing instant song writing. The spontaneity and being able to respond to each setting differently really worked. It was also wonderful to be joined by Maya Adams and for us to dance in unison, creating a lot more impact together than just a solo dancer. 

Sometimes when we arrived people would be sleeping and hearing the music they would wake, become animated and interact with us and the people around them. Sometimes people would seem to be sleeping but we would see that their fingers or feet were tapping in time to the music. People really responded to the mix of live music and movement and there was many a time when someone would be dancing solo or with a partner, playing an instrument or singing along. 

We created a series of themed performances over the year, with a set list of songs and dances that are well known and loved, and which encourage people to join in, singing and moving, waving and smiling. We danced with people through windows; sang with people who waved at us from their balconies; laughed with little pre-school people and their elderly neighbours; struck up conversations about music and cold water swimming. We danced charleston, swing, ballet, jive, even a bit of flamenco; sang songs about the sun and the rain, as well as old favourites like the Quartermasters Store. When it got cold I was grateful for Knees Up Mother Brown; when it rained I was happy to have an umbrella for a prop. We donned and doffed, laterally flowed, wore many guises and hats, and got quite wet and quite cold, quite a lot. Sometimes we got trapped in gardens in the rain, without the code for the gate, and wondering if we might shimmy over the fence.

This project has kept alive my dance practice and given me an opportunity to collaborate with other artists to create and share participatory performances with audiences in their own homes and at close quarters. I am so grateful to everyone involved and the funders who supported this brilliant project, which was so special for me personally to keep connected at a time when so much teaching and performance work was cancelled or postponed due to covid. Thank you.

Blog by Rebecca Jeffery

Lead Dance Artist
Arts on Call, North Devon Team

November 2021

We had thirteen fantastic sessions with each one very special. One of the most touching moments was in Torrington, where a gentleman called Brian took a great shine to Dan’s Jimi Hendrix music and came out wearing sun glasses and a bright scarf and joined our performance with his own ukulele! He left and then made more appearances throughout the show, pretending to solo and jam with Dan. He was our hero! The care home administrator told us later on: “I have spoken with Brian’s wife who was thrilled to hear that Brian had such a lovely time and had made such an impression, quite the celebrity! Thank you so much for entertaining our Residents, I’m glad that you enjoyed it too.”

At another session, it was a fabulous sunny afternoon and 15 residents sat outside and 5 sat watching from indoors. One woman, visibly moved by the music bravely walked onto our performance space to join in; it was a joy to experience her reactions. Some of the other residents and staff danced together with their partners. A lovely session spreading joy to all who came. “Everyone really enjoyed it and we would love to see you again” – Care Home Administrator.

North Devon team getting ready to perform

At a remote farm house residential home in Holsworthy, the atmosphere was very good and with lots of friendly dogs roaming too. Staff member, Annette, joined us when we did our chair dance to our James Brown – ‘Get offa that thing’ and that made it such fun for us all. One resident was waving a fun sparkly scarf with a permanent smile whilst another resident took a film of us. It was a lovely end to our first day and great to see the reactions to our playlist and beautifully executed music and dance.

In Bideford, at our final session, we performed outside their conservatory in beautiful grounds – though a bit muddy from the geese and peacocks ranging the grounds. The residents and staff had made an impressive effort with an array of colourful scarves and props. They exuded so much appreciation, joy, happiness and movement – what a lovely happy atmosphere! The music was incredible and seemed to develop into a fantastic crescendo for our final performance, making us all dance our socks off and spreading so much joy to each other, once more!

A fantastic finish to phase 3 Arts On Call! Thank you Dance in Devon for making this possible in North Devon!

Blog by Martha Scholefield

Support Dance Practitioner
Arts on Call, South/West Devon Team

Thursday 18th November 2021

We arrived at our final care home of the day in Tavistock, just as the evening sun was starting to set behind the trees. The residents were ready and gathered in the front room all looking out of the large bay window. After a brief worry that the very thick windows might prevent any of the live music or our voices being able to reach the residents, the lovely staff opened up the huge window as if opening the curtains on our ‘stage’! We were also joined by one resident from his room up on the first floor, so we were able to take it in turns to move backwards so that he could see us dancing too.

Martha, Judy and Rosie dancing to ‘Raindrops keep falling on my head’

One lady told us that she had never really recovered from the loss of her husband, but she enjoyed telling us about how they used to go to dances and that she was really enjoying hearing the live music again and watching us dance. Matt played a lovely solo of ‘Danny Boy’ (or ‘Londonderry Air’) during our set, which really resonated with the elders and it was a beautiful moment for everyone just to listen.

Some of the residents remembered Rosie and Judy from when they used to work in the home leading movement sessions a few years ago. As we performed, many of the residents smiled, clapped and sang along, lots of the staff joined in by dancing with each other and the residents too. It was a brilliant and everyone in great spirits. We really enjoyed chatting to the elders between songs and afterwards and was humbling to hear how much they enjoyed themselves and the performance.

As we were leaving, one of the staff members came out to thank us again and gave us a box of Quality Street, which we shared out between us and was very welcomed treat for our journeys home!

It has been a joy and a pleasure to be visiting the homes and performing with a wonderful team. I already knew the incredible benefits this project has been having on the more isolated community (as I have been managing the project since December 2020) but it was very rewarding and special to be able to witness it first hand.

West Devon team

Blog by Dan Jeffery

Arts on Call, North Devon Team

Thursday 11th November 2021

We spent the afternoon in and around Torrington. At the first care home we performed outside on their driveway, it was the first performance where the residents were sitting outside in front of us (with blankets!). It was great to perform without windows and doors in between us and they were a very responsive audience and engaged, joining in dancing in their chairs. One lady said her grandmother and mother had lived in South Africa and how she loved it there herself. Identifying with us as African performers this generated these pleasant memories for her. Her happiness was evident as she constantly waved her hands throughout the performance. Some of the residents and staff were very focused on my hair and music and enjoyed calling me him Jimi Hendrix! The interactions between everyone were very happy and there was a lovely intimate atmosphere.

Dan, Becky and Jennie performing

Next we performed outside in a very small court yard with the residents up close indoors behind two windows spread across the corner of the courtyard. The atmosphere seemed to gain momentum as our show went on with lots laughing, smiling and joining in. Lots of them got up out of their chairs and danced. One man in particular was very unresponsive to begin with but during one of the songs something seemed to awaken and he very slowly stood up in a stage-like manor to the music and suddenly surged with energy; he stayed up and danced till the end. They gave us tea and mince pies afterwards and it was great to review our experiences and bond as a team.

North Devon team performing

Some great feedback from some of our visits in November:

“It had been a rough time at [care home] and your dance performance cheered everyone up” – Care Home Manager

The residents truly enjoyed the music and the dancers. It was a joy to see some of the residents dancing along and to see their smiles. The performance was very colourful and encouraged the resident’s participation. I especially loved the signs.” – Care Home Staff Member

Blog by Rosie Perdikeas

Lead Dance Artist
Arts on Call, South/West Devon Team

Thursday 4th November 2021

Today was a lovely sunny day with bright blue skies and sunshine, perfect weather to start phrase three of Arts on Call! We have new members of the team: Martha as support dance practitioner, and very happy to have her onboard dancing after project managing Arts on Call for almost a year! Judy volunteering, with lots of lovely skills and dance experience to share and Matt delivering wonderful music on the keyboard, guitar and trombone!

Martha, Judy and Matt

We met early in Yelverton to rehearse, and as some residents were ready and waiting to watch they got a double helping of our performance! Residents were sat in a large bay window with one elder, who had been a dancer, coming out to join us well wrapped up in a blanket; we were able to talk to her about her dancing days, and she expressed how excited she was that we were here today. Residents responses were wonderful, they sang and joined in with many of the moves, especially ‘Rock Around The Clock’! Overall is was a great first session, with much joy generated for everyone concerned!

At the second session we were met with an offer of a cup of tea that went down very well and then danced on a patio where over twenty residents were sat in large lounge looking out onto it. We had a wonderful response with one resident Gwenda standing and dancing for the entire session, she loved it, picking up all the moves so beautifully; we all thought if we needed any more support she could join us! There was one gentleman in another room further along with a carer, I took one of our placards saying ‘Please join in’ and he did. Together we did the hand-jive, it was a very special moment and lovely to have a dance on a one-to-one. As we left I noted several residents were up and dancing with staff and were continuing the dance session – fabulous!

The third session took us to Tavistock, unfortunately we had to say au revoir to Matt at this point as his car had developed a puncture! Fortunately I had my speaker with me, so we hastily pulled our music playlist together and met the activity coordinator who was very happy to see us. All the residents were sat in a large conservatory where we had an outside patio to dance on with a gazebo. Windows were not allowed to be opened due to in-house Covid restrictions, so the speaker was taken inside for the residents to hear the music, this meant we could only hear thin strands of it through the double glazed windows! However, we worked to hear as much as we could and managed to keep the dances coordinated between us! Residents were frail and obviously very unwell at this care home, there were plenty of staff on hand to support and as the music got going many woke up and became more aware of what was happening, and a couple of elders even got up to dance with staff, which was wonderful to see. Overall three lovely first sessions bringing joy and much enjoyment for everyone!

West Devon team performing ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’

Blog by Maya Adams

Support Dance Practitioner
Arts on Call, Torbay Team

Wednesday 27th October 2021

On arrival at the care home, we were directed to find our way up to the balcony without going through the building. Clambering over the cable tied gate, we peered in to find the smiley residents waving and laughing with us. 

One resident in a yellow jumper, I think, felt hard done by what with her being one of the first people there, she had to sit on the side. She wasn’t having it, she wanted to be sat front and centre!! We chuckled with her as she tried to get up and move seats about five times and the lovely staff member continued to reassure her that she would be able to see just fine. The residents here were such characters – all 19 of them!

We travelled via train, swam in the sea, Charlestoned and skated with them, and they fully invested in us the whole way. This group really wanted to be moving and singing and sharing their time with us – it was a total delight to witness and be a part of. The member of staff that joined us was incredible; we saw them dancing with the residents, singing along and ensuring an inclusive, fun environment for everyone. What a special place.

Another visit that day we were met by a lively bunch sitting outside, huddled in their blankets. As we began to get acquainted with the group, more faces started to appear around us: a couple leaning out the window and chatting to friends below. Twins Pat and Pam, and friend who “keeps them out of trouble”. Above us, Jean, a woman we later learned had not been well of late (but we would never have known with her superb dance moves) and young siblings on the top floor with arms flailing out the window ready to dance with their grandma. What an atmosphere from the get-go.

After introducing ourselves, Hugh suggested we might get everyone moving with ‘Toe Knee Nose’. Not being able to keep up with the actions sent a woman named Thelma into the most contagious, naughty laughter I have heard in a long time. The pure joy that ensued, as Thelma couldn’t calm herself and the rest of us joined in, was heaven. A very emotive moment; a bringing together of friends and strangers alike, all making total fools of ourselves. Brilliant!

Roderick danced his daughter around the green to The Skater’s Waltz, Jean did the breaststroke at her window to The Swimming Song, Thelma swung Hugh’s bag around to the Chattanooga Choo Choo and we all shook our left legs about to the Hokey Cokey. We laughed a lot with the residents and ended our visit by sharing the generously gifted bag of Quality Street amongst us all!

A day jam packed with big smiles, beautiful singing, silly moves and wonderful company.

Blog by Hugh Nankivell

Musician (Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra)
Arts on Call, Torbay Team

Monday 25th October 2021

The new season starts with showers predicted and showers came – (and as we journeyed home – a rainbow) and lucky that we had umbrellas to the ready, intended as props for Clare and Maya but also became an emergency cover for the accordion for me. This afternoon we did perform in quite heavy rain at times, and considering most of these Arts on Call sessions have been in Autumn, Winter and Spring it is more surprising that we haven’t yet been rained off.

Three sessions up in the heights of Torquay, in old villas converted into care homes, and all with lovely gardens. We played outside and the residents and carers were inside with the patio doors open. Sometimes an elder got a bit cold and so more blankets were brought, but mostly the music and the dancing seemed to keep them all warm and we had so many smiles and requests and it felt there was a a real need by the residents to keep us there. We had to leave the second home in a very heavy rain shower, when it had just got to the stage where the residents were chatting to us and really joining in, so this felt a pity. But at the final care home we were prevented from leaving and asked to do many more tunes than we had predicted. Of course we can do that with the last place on the list! And the three of us left with big smiles.

Clare and Maya with some of their props

Some highlights:

  • At one place just after we had started the carers gave out instruments to everyone and so spontaneously we became a big band, which was great.
  • At another they started calling out requests, and if we didn’t know them, they just sang them anyhow. It felt like we were there giving them permission to play and have fun.
  • At the third care home we had one man who conducted throughout, a lady who danced with a carer for every tune, a man who made puns and cracked jokes and a lady who remembered us clearly from 8 months ago and knew exactly what we had done when we came before.
  • We made up a song with a rhyme for every resident in the third home – and for Jerry – we got really elaborate – he was getting ‘very merry drinking sherry’ and ‘falling off the ferry!’