Dance in Prisons

11 October 2018

An advocate for the transformative power of dance, Company Chameleon has experience of taking dance into a number of secure settings.  This includes being invited to deliver a dance workshop in a high security youth offenders institute in Bonneytown, South Africa. For Co-Artistic Director, Kevin Edward Turner, this experience is one of his most powerful and memorable to date.

Kevin said, “The workshop took place in a big sports hall with 30 boys, aged between 11 and 18, who were scrupulously supervised by the prison guards. When they arrived, they shuffled into the hall without saying a word. The atmosphere in the room was deeply subdued, and it felt like each of them had the weight of the world on their shoulders. I remember thinking to myself that this could be really difficult.

As the warm-up got going, the nervous energy began to shift, and as the group started to try out some of the moves and material, they started to smile. Soon everyone was interacting, the mood lifted and the group dynamic in the room changed. Teaching a section from a piece called Rites, a work that explores male identity and masculine rites of passage, we talked to them about the ideas behind the work and they listened intently.  Soon the groups were working hard and responding to the ideas in the piece through dance and movement. 

As South African house music boomed away, and handstands, cartwheels and lifts took over the space, it was clear the physicality of movement was making people feel good. When a routine was correctly completed, confidence soared and a real sense of achievement took hold.

In the final part of the session, the groups were given a creative task to make up their own short story through dance. The boys approached the task with enthusiasm, and starting sharing and talking fervently about ideas. When it came to sharing what they had created, some of the material was mind-blowing – so beautiful, powerful and poignant. It was obvious that the stories they were expressing were coming from a deep place.

At the end there was rapturous applause. It was apparent that everyone felt touched by what they had just seen. Something quite special had just happened, and whatever it was went beyond dance and movement. It tapped into something much deeper inside each person present.

More than any other, this experience has cemented my belief in the transformative nature of dance, especially in relation to young people. And this was just one afternoon of activity. Can you imagine the potential impact over a longer period of time?”

Following on, Company Chameleon have built on this experience through leading dance workshops in a number of secure settings in the UK.

In September 2017, Chameleon were invited to take dance into Barton Moss Secure Unit, a 20-place secure unit for vulnerable young offenders in Greater Manchester and Wymott Prison, a Category C prison in Lancashire with two unique performances of our outdoor dance production, Of Man And Beast. This project, in partnership with Odd Arts, saw Chameleon perform Of Man And Beast in UK prison settings for the first time. 

In 2019, Company Chameleon is working in partnership with Odd Arts to take dance and theatre into UK prisons in a groundbreaking project, which will increase resilience and wellbeing in young adults, and contribute to the national evidence base of the impact of arts in criminal justice.

To find out more about our project work with isolated, vulnerable and excluded groups contact: sam@companychameleon.com

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