‘And I was dancing!’: Integrating Technology and Dance

After Dance Network Association (DNA) featured on a recent podcast episode, their CEO Gemma invited us to attend their ‘Dancing with Parkinson’s and Technology Experience Day’ to try a dance class and find out more about the impact their programmes have on people living with Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease has a wide range of symptoms but it can affect physical movement through tremors, slowness of movement and muscle stiffness. The Dancing with Parkinson’s classes aim to work on these areas, whilst keeping the main focus on the joy of dancing and the social element of the group. They make it clear they are a dance group, rather than an exercise or physiotherapy group.

Over the past seven weeks, participants in the Dancing with Parkinson’s group have been exploring how technology can add to their dancing experience through virtual reality (VR) headsets and motion sensor cameras in collaboration with CoDa Dance Company.

‘My mission is to get all of Essex dancing.’ – Gemma

CoDa is a dance charity based in South East Essex that specialises in dance and neurology. Like DNA, it was founded based on personal experience. Gemma was inspired to start DNA after her mother-in-law Jane was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Nikki founded CoDa after her mother was diagnosed with Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. Lived experience is embedded in all the work they do.

Nikki’s mission is to bring the arts to existing community spaces. She discussed how inaccessible theatre spaces are for her participants, but said it was possible to bring dance and theatre to the places people already gather and feel comfortable with each other. For the technology they are creating, they felt it was important to ensure that it works equally as well when seated and standing to make it as accessible as possible.

‘I like it when you can see a defined movement.’ – Participant

One of the pieces of technology we got the chance to try was a motion sensor camera. It turned your body into lots of small particles on screen that would interact with each other and create colours and effects as you moved. It was a very immersive experience, with many people saying they felt as if ‘they were dancing like nobody was watching’ and that it was so magical ‘I feel like Harry Potter’. It made the group more confident, and it made teamwork feel instinctual, as we tried to see how we could affect the particles by moving at the same time. By seeing your body as particles rather than a mirror image, you could also focus more on the movement than how your body looked, reducing feelings of self-consciousness. Participants found that their range of movement increased as they tried to create bigger effects.

Engagement Officer Mel dancing with the motion sensor camera

‘I didn’t know I could move that good.’ – Participant

The other piece of technology on display was the VR headset. Some people loved this, saying ‘it took them out of their moments of pain’ and felt like ‘a spiritual experience like meditating’. Others found it more isolating as they preferred the social experience of dancing in a group and they struggled with the dexterity of the controls whilst their sight was removed. In the panel session afterwards, CoDa discussed how the future of the project would involve looking at how technology could offer the most benefit to as many of the participants as possible.

Communications Officer Chloe dancing using the VR headset

It was wonderful to take part in the experience day and explore the possibilities of integrating technology into existing spaces to improve health and wellbeing. We are excited to see how this project develops!

For more information about DNA, click here.

For more information about CoDa, click here.

To listen to the Hidden Voices episode featuring Gemma and Jane, click here.