Cathy Westbrook, Development Director at Moving Memory Dance Theatre, shares insights into their collaborative approach to dance.

Nearly ten years ago, a group of older women began a movement project led by Professional Director, Sian Stevenson. Together with a group of drama students from the University of Kent (Canterbury, UK), these women collected stories from older adults living in a residential care home and translated those stories into a performance piece – which was presented to the public at the University. The group were completely hooked on the creative experience and went on to create “Moving Memory”, a fully-fledged dance theatre company – with members of the original group still in the core ensemble and Sian now serving as the company’s Creative Director.  

Moving Memory’s aim is to use a peer-led, creative, dance-theatre practice that enables people to tell the stories they want to tell, express their individual identity, and have a voice in wider society. The impact of having a voice and visibility leads, invariably, to improvements in individual health and well-being. Academic evaluationof the programme has shown that Moving Memory contribute’s to all 5 Ways to Wellbeing, and analysis of participants’ comments tells us that we particularly contribute to enhancing a sense of self-worth, improving relationships and social activity, and increasing physical activity.

Moving Memory Love Grows Littlebourne

Moving Memory is driven by a desire to challenge ageist and sexist stereotypes by making powerful and entertaining performances. They have deliberately chosen to make several, highly visual pop-up pieces with strong messages, including Cracking the Crinoline, Start Stomping and Love Grows. The company have performed in a huge range of public spaces, including shopping centres, festivals, on the streets of Paris, outside London’s South Bank and many other places. They also produce work for theatre, which is deeper, more nuanced and emotionally engaging, and is drawn from their own experiences.

Moving Memory’s practice is rooted in a collaborative approach. The way the core ensemble came fresh to this work, later in life, has given them a desire to share their experience of developing their own creativity and performing.

They have developed their own distinctive, participatory practice called Moving Well – which they use to run workshops and special projects. Moving Well starts with the abilities of the people in the room – who are equal partners in the process. All participants contribute movements or gestures and the process builds a choreography with its origin in personal stories.

Moving Well workshop Photo Simon Richardson

Importantly, Moving Memory projects are peer-led – by the core company and, more recently, our trained facilitation team. Projects have included working with intergenerational groups, people with mental health challenges, older people in day and residential care settings, and other active older people. We have developed a Moving Well sessions training programme to enable people to develop their own creative movement and performance groups. 

Another important strand of the work of combatting ageism is through our very strong commitment to intergenerational working – getting younger people involved as equal partners. Challenging perceptions of ageing both for the people involved in the work and our audiences has enabled us to counter negative age stereotypes and negative self-stereotypes, with our external evaluations showcasing how our work has actively changed our audiences’ views on ageing

Overall, Moving Memory Dance Theatre is unapologetic about bringing older women centre-stage. We are at the spearhead of a movement to bring about changes in attitudes to ageing – led by older people themselves – and this is something we want to help grow much, much more! 

You can follow updates from Moving Memory on Twitter.
Thanks to our Blog Editors RobynKate for editing this blog.

Stay safe, well & creative – Emily BSG Creative Ageing SIG Founder & Chair

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