Preparation for a recent study tour to Japan focused around my ambition to share the numerous benefits of creative dance for elder people (and particularly those living with dementia and Parkinson’s) in the most articulate and inspirational words I could find. To be an ambassador for the many dance specialists enriching the lives of the older generations with graceful, fluid, fun and rhythmic movements which can build confidence, self-esteem, creativity, coordination and balance. I hoped to experience the magical Japanese culture first hand and to spend time building partnerships with esteemed local practitioners and medical professionals. I didn’t realise that my learning would begin with my first step into a room full of British and Japanese colleagues and would involve me becoming part of a dynamic and responsive new team of specialists brought together for the first time to share our work in dance, music, drama and visual art.
Our first day together was filled with the information we needed to orientate ourselves and fine tune our own agendas, allowing us to focus on delivering the most appropriate information in our areas of expertise and shared passion for arts for elder communities to those beginning similar initiatives in Japan. It became apparent from the outset that our journey of intercultural learning between arts communities in Japan and the UK would also involve a significant amount of ambidexterity from the UK team. We hadn’t known each other before the trip; but my time with Julian West, Jane Findlay, Andrew Barry and Abid Hussain taught me a great deal about working creatively with elders in many ways I didn’t expect.
We connected intuitively from the first moment. Perhaps it was our shared passion and knowledge of the impact our work has had peoples’ lives. Perhaps it was a common respect for one another which developed as we began to understand the breadth and depth of our shared experiences. Perhaps the excellently programmed schedule of activities and meetings set out for us in Tokyo and Kyoto promoted our sense of shared identity within this context and opened our minds further to possible partnerships and joint training opportunities with our Japanese counterparts.
On the afternoon of our first session together we visited a day care facility to observe a music session scheduled for delivery to elderly participants. The session was the first for the music practitioners and it was warmly received by the enthusiastic participants. It was fascinating for us to analyse the work together with the team afterwards over tea and to share our different thoughts and responses to their questions. We faced common challenges, we shared common hopes for our senior artists and we all benefited from a dialogue which moved across various perspectives as we explored artistic practice in care settings.
Two arts for elders’ conferences formed the keystone of our trip. The organisation of the conferences delivered in both Tokyo and Kyoto was impressive. I was especially pleased to learn about the many health and social care professionals attending these events alongside local government leaders and arts practitioners and researchers. It can often prove challenging to attract medical professionals to such events and their understanding of the impact of programmes for senior generations is invaluable to our journey. Presentations were followed by lively discussions with many small groups forming to talk at the close of the day. One of the highlights of the trip for me was having the opportunity to work as an effective team with my UK colleagues to deliver the most inspirational and empowering message we could whilst having the opportunity to connect informally with the local delegates who were keen to share experiences and ask questions. I loved meeting them and was struck by the opportunities there were to roll out really enriching programmes.
I found a particularly meaningful connection with the senior team from the Culture and Art Planning Section of the City of Culture and Art Promotion Office in Kyoto. Prior to our conference in the city, Yoshioka Kumiko and Makoto Kuratani met with us to deliver an inspiring presentation focusing on their work with dance and older people. They had commissioned an experienced dance artist and performer to consult with an elder community group and to create a new piece of dance performance together with their input. The impact of her creativity and the obvious skill she had drawn upon to connect with the group and collect their responses to her movement and concepts was very moving. Through my many years of community dance teaching experience I understood immediately what she had achieved and found the poetry of her performance on stage with the elder participants something I would like to replicate with our own practitioners here in Scotland.
Community arts practice is continuously pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved and there is a plethora of ways in which I can see our partnerships in Japan blossoming. Immediate plans include exploring the opportunity to bring Scottish Ballet’s Elder Company with a small team of experienced practitioners over to Tokyo in 2020 to perform, to connect and work in local communities and to deliver training in Dance for Parkinson’s, Dance for Dementia and Dance for Multiple Sclerosis. I would also like to work with our colleagues in Kyoto to build a possible artist exchange programme with a view to commissioning a new piece of integrated dance performance work in both Glasgow and Kyoto. My experiences in Japan were unique and precious; developing my professional skills and igniting a passion to build resilient programmes with Japanese partners.
Catherine Cassidy (Director of Engagement, Scottish Ballet)