Dance in prisons

11 June 2019

Company Chameleon in partnership with Odd Arts is taking dance into prisons in a groundbreaking project, which will increase resilience and wellbeing in young adults in secure settings.

The innovative programme co-designed by Chameleon and Odd Arts takes place between May and September 2019 and brings together dance, theatre and psychology.

Contributing to the national evidence base of the impact of arts in criminal justice, the project will be evaluated by the University of Central Lancashire Psychosocial Research Unit, results of which will be published in a report in January 2020.

Rebecca Friel, Director of Odd Arts, said, “This is an extremely exciting project that we are very passionate about.  It responds to the current crisis around mental health, youth violence and knife crime, and the fact that we clearly need to find ways for people to live in a less divided and less violent society.  Research shows that one way to overcome this is through improving mental health, confidence, self-esteem and wellbeing to build the resilience needed to deal with challenges.”

Following a research and development period (which involved the workshop pictured), Company Chameleon and Odd Arts will visit Lancaster Farms, Barton Moss Secure Unit, Lincolnshire Secure Unit, a Secure Care Home in West Yorkshire and Bolton Acute Wards to deliver a four-day dance and drama course underpinned by restorative approaches and non-violent communication.

Through expression and performance, the course will enable the participants to physically explore feelings, emotions and negative experiences that they would otherwise find extremely challenging to talk about and share.

At the end of the course, participants will perform for staff and other residents, and upon completing the course will receive an accreditation.

Kevin Edward Turner, Co-Artistic-Director of Company Chameleon, said: “The arts, and dance and drama in particular, allow people to take control of negative emotions and have power over them. Through movement and acting, you can tell stories, express emotion and learn more about yourself.”

An advocate for the transformative power of dance, Company Chameleon has experience of taking dance into prisons, here in the UK and abroad in South Africa.

Kevin Edward Turner said, “Being inside an institution by its very nature does not allow the space to express the feelings, emotions and ideas that the inmates have had time to reflect on. Working with movement, dance and physical theatre, we can find ways to express and better understand our internal world, and from there build an awareness of other choices in life along with the strength and resilience to take them.”

Odd Arts has extensive experience of working in the criminal justice arena and using theatre and the arts to improve mental health wellbeing, improve work-based skills and reduce the risk of reoffending.

Rebecca Friel, Director of Odd Arts, said, “Last year, I was invited to America to take part in a US Embassy Countering Violent Extremism exchange. Here, I learnt about the ‘Boston Miracle’, that saw a huge reduction in gun crime and homicide. The thing that struck me most was the therapeutic approach and time spent supporting people to overcome trauma. They used techniques such as ’emotional first aid kits’, focusing on the psychological damage and recovery needed, after being exposed to trauma and violence.

This project uses dance and drama as a way for people to explore their most complex feelings and emotions and in turn have a better understanding of themselves and their behaviour. It also aims to give people the confidence to trust their bodies to create something positive, strong and even beautiful. This is invaluable, especially for people who associate their own body with violence, trauma or abuse.”

Keep an eye on our web-site for further project updates later in the summer. Find out more about Odd Arts here. Find out more about Company Chameleon’s project work with isolated, vulnerable and excluded groups here.

The project is funded by Arts Council England.

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