No words needed: dance for mental health and well-being

9 October 2022

Showing our support for World Mental Health Day 2022, we look at the development of our dance, mental health and well-being programme, and why the authentic place from which it has grown, makes it a unique offer to the world.

In 2016, our Co-Director, Kevin, returned to work after recovering from mental illness. Kev had overcome a hugely challenging period struggling with bi-polar disorder. In the darkest moments, he was sectioned in a mental health unit.

When Kev returned to work, he put all his emotion and deeply personal experience into choregraphing Witness. Through dance and movement, the production shared Kev’s story and the impact of his illness on himself, his family and loved ones.

Touring across the UK in 2016/17, Witness resonated with audiences everywhere.

“Deeply personal piece, thank you for your dance and courage.”
“Stunning performances and an incredible personal story.”
“Powerful, moving, brave, honest.”

At the same time as making Witness, Chameleon collaborated with young people’s mental health charity, 42nd Street. Together, we created a workshop, giving young people facing mental health challenges, the opportunity to explore and express their thoughts and feelings through movement.

The feedback from the young people involved was hugely positive.  Dance and movement gave them a new outlet of expression.  Through their body and movement, they could explore feelings and experiences that they struggled to talk about in words.

Kev’s story and our partnership with 42nd Street caught the interest of writer Rachel Pugh who wrote about our partnership for a piece in The Guardian. From there other opportunities began to arise.  Kev was invited to deliver a TED talk and he began to be invited to speak at mental health and well-being conferences, to share his story and the dance perspective.

In 2017, Kev was invited to be part of the first of two BBC documentaries around the theme of dance and mental health. Kevin appeared in ‘Going Back, Giving Back’ with Aled Jones and following on ‘Dancing to Happiness’ with Darcey Bussell.

Kevin’s Headteacher at his primary school, Frank Norris, saw him on TV and got in touch.  Soon we were delivering a dance and mental health project with young people across Co-Op Academies in Manchester and Leeds.

Young people from across different schools were brought together to watch Witness This, Kevin’s outdoor dance performance, adapted from theatre production Witness.

Guided by Chameleon though workshops, the young people went through their own creative process, creating their own dance performances about mental health, which were performed in front of their peers.

“The workshops were fantastic and the Company brilliant to work with. The students got so much out of the two days.”
S Moran, Co-op Academy Failsworth

Since 2016, our dance, mental health & wellbeing programme has steadily grown. Collaboration has been key to reaching people and making an impact.

Partnerships with 42nd Street, the Co-op Academies Trust, the BBC, Deda, Derby Hospital, Odd Arts, Z-arts and Manchester Academy have each helped us evolve and strengthen our offer.

Looking at 2022, the programme has developed in all sorts of ways.  In February, we were invited by Scottish Ballet to be part of the Moving Minds conference in Glasgow. As a key speaker, Kevin talked on the topic of dance and mental health, and we ran workshops along with performing Void and Witness This.

In March, we collaborated with #BeeWell and Manchester Academy in a creative intensive weekend to produce a short dance film. Through dance and movement, the project gave young people an opportunity to explore themes including wellbeing, relationships and self-esteem. We also worked with 42nd Street to deliver a six-week project at Ellesmere Park High School in Eccles.

In May, we performed Witness This at Sick Festival in Harpurhey in Manchester. Now nearly six years old, it felt even more important to share Kev’s story and shine a light on mental health.

“Loved it. Thank you so much for coming to North Manchester. It’s great to have things like this come to our area.” Sy Daye (on Instagram)

Currently, we’re working with Odd Arts on a theatre, movement, and well-being project in prisons. We continue our work with Arc in Stockport on an arts recovery programme with adults. We continue to work with 42ndStreet, this time in partnership with Salford Council and a group of young people from the city.

An established TV producer from LA zoomed with Kev recently about a television series around dance and mental health. Who knows if it will lead to anything.  But step by step, we continue to build this strand of our work. To raise awareness around the importance of mental health. To promote dance as tool to support positive mental health.

Kevin said: “Movement and dance have played such a pivotal role in my life. It has provided me with the platform to explore and express my inner world through my physicality. In doing so, I’ve been able to develop tools and experiences to manage and understand myself and my condition.

Exchange, collaboration, creativity, and the valuing of one’s ideas in a creative process are intrinsic to my own history and practice, and what I endeavour to create for those who I work with. These attributes contribute to and develop a sense of confidence, agency, and wellbeing.

Talking about and expressing your thoughts and feelings are an important step towards a healthy mental state and understanding yourself and your needs.

Working with people from a whole host of backgrounds and ages, I know the powerful transformation that can take place within a creative process and the impact it can have on one’s health and wellbeing.

Whether experiencing a dance performance or engaging in movement yourself. Dance and creative expression present a potent way for us to better understand ourselves, which can lead healthier outcomes for all of society. This is why I’m passionate about this strand of the Chameleon’s activity and why I will continue to champion this cause for all.”

Watch below: a new film with Kevin talking about the development of our dance, mental health and well-being programme and the journey so far.

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"10 was such a wonderful experience - I cant wait to see more of your incredible work!" "Effortless grace, strength, humour and athleticism - a visual treat!" "We brought 65 young people to your performance tonight - every single one loved it! What an amazing show!" "This show reminded me why I dance and what I’m constantly working towards! Thank you for this experience!" "Such beauty in the small moments of this show - please don't stop doing what you’re doing"

Thank you to everyone who comes to watch us perform and for all your wonderful comments and feedback!