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Clare Courtney from Heart & Parcel reflects on 'The Body Of Us' as a part of women's ESOL lessons.

In March 2018, ‘The Body of Us’ collaborated with Heart & Parcel, a local Manchester community project supporting Women from migrant communities through English language provision or English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). Usually provided by the UK government, ESOL is best described as English language for ‘social integration’ (Barton, 2007). However, due to consecutive cuts to this sector, voluntary grassroots organisations such as Heart & Parcel have started to include this area of provision in their aims. Heart & Parcel uses practical activities in their sessions as a spring board for English language development. Heart & Parcel seeks to find new and innovative ways to subvert the formalised traditional style of English language teaching seen in institutions and accredited courses, opting instead for creative, authentic ways of expression.

Such opportunities for this context can be realised via ‘The Body of Us’ and its development of a movement resource kit. This kit introduces and explores movement and dance with the aim of being accessible to a wide diversity of groups and contexts. One of the strands of engagement was for an environment in which users who did not use English as their working and living language. For Heart & Parcel, the process of ‘social integration’ (Barton, 2007) does not involve just Language learning. Navigating through new spaces requires a range of other skills and knowledge, as well as developing one’s existing abilities to build resilience. There has been a growing body of research and funding focusing on the wellbeing of communities.

This collaboration therefore stemmed from an interest into existing research connection that dance does support and benefit well-being (Joynson, Hui and Stickley 2009) as well as develop ‘…participants’ cultural awareness and contribute to strengthening their wider education’ (Burkhart and Rhodes, 2012). Dance artists Bridget Fiske and Rachel Maffei joined a block of ten sessions that were run by Heart & Parcel with the focus of supporting women who wished to develop their English language skills in a relaxed and informal way through informal creative practices. Bridget and Rachel carried out movement exploration activities at the beginning and end of each session that encouraged interpersonal connection, creative and self-expression as well as facilitating activity that incorporated vocabulary for that day.

Throughout the collaboration, observations were noticed by the staff in relation to unexpected outcomes coming from the combination of movement and English. Participants noted how moving at the start and end of the session helped them with their bodies. Some saw it as exercises which ‘gets rid of stiffness’ and described it as ‘sport’ indicating they saw the physical and health benefits of the activity They also used words like ’happy’ and ‘excited’ and ‘laugh’ to describe how they felt, explaining that they felt ‘lively to the dance, rhythm’. These positive ways of describing how they felt was also observed by volunteers and staff, who noted that after movement women were much livelier and awake, and noted that they were feeling more prepared and focused for the English language learning that preceded.

This collaboration was meaningful for both organisations involved. Further development and research is planned to be carried out as a result.

Written by Clare Courtney, Director - Heart & Parcel

Reference List

Barton, D., Ivanic, R., Appleby, Y., Hodge, H. and Tusting, K. (2007). Literacy, Lives and Learning. New York: Routledge.

Burkhardt J and Rhodes J (2012), Dance Active Commissioning Dance for Health and Well-Being Guidance and Resources for Commissioners, March 2012. [online].

Date Accessed: 15/11/2018

Joynson, K., Hui, A. and Stickley, T. (2009), An Evaluation of the development of Young@Heart, a dance project for Older People, Nottingham, England: Dance4

Date Accessed: 15/11/2018



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