A partnership between Autin Dance Theatre CIC Theatre, Birmingham LGBTQ (Ageing with Pride programme), Extra Care Homes and Birmingham Voluntary Service Council, 'Let's Get Moving!' aimed to people aged 50+ the opportunity to talk and dance together.

The project was delivered through twelve creative dance sessions provided online, during which participants shared their experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic whilst learning to move in ways that expressed their conversations.

It culminated in a co-created dance routine that encapsulated the participants’ experiences and stories from lockdown, with a view to meeting up for a  ‘Post-Lockdown Dance’ celebration in the future. 

Creating a welcoming environment for creative expression

With the majority of the attendees aged 65 and over, it was important to ensure the online programme was as inclusive as possible. Autin Dance Theatre was able to overcome technical challenges by investing in someone that could support the digital aspect of the programme.

They phoned participants to check that they were OK with using Zoom. They also suggested in session when participants needed to move their screen, and of course, explained how to take themselves off mute. They took things slowly, taking time to explain what they were going to be doing, turning the music up bit by bit once they were sure everyone was feeling confident with what was happening. All sessions were also made accessible with British Sign Language interpretation and included closed captions.

Once the participants felt comfortable with the tech, it was important that they got comfortable with dance.

“They would say they’re ‘not as young as they used to be’," says Founder and Director of Autin Dance Theatre, Johnny Autin. "Or they’ll see programmes like So You Think You Can Dance and think that I’m expecting them to do a backflip in their kitchen.”

But Johnny made it clear to participants that they should place no such expectation on themselves. 

“For me, a dancer isn't somebody who can jump and do amazing tricks," he says. "I think a dancer is somebody that is letting it happen and then enjoying themselves. I've seen people dance with just their arms because they’re in a wheelchair or people dance with just their faces. For me dancing is just a state of being, so even if you can’t jump on that right leg or on the left, you're still dancing. The fact that you're willing to give it a go makes you a dancer in my book.”

Johnny's freeing and inclusive definition of a dancer made it easy for participants to feel comfortable with moving in new expressive ways, without any pressure to push their bodies too far. In this atmosphere, some of the participants surprised themselves with what they could do. Here's what some of them had to say:

  • "I didn't expect to do so well but it's going very well, so I'm very happy about this." 
  • "This has opened my eyes. It's something entirely new to me, well outside my comfort zone as an engineer. I never knew - there are no rules to life!"

Crucial to the well-being focus of the programme were the conversations that inspired the movements. During each session, attendees were invited to share their experiences of lockdown and shielding, to express their thoughts and opinions in a safe, positive and productive space. 

"I always tried to put a positive spin on their experiences," says Johnny "even while we were living through the pandemic - so we’d talk about the sunshine, the flowers, small acts of kindness or conversations with neighbours. And then we’d use some of those words to influence the moves that we did together. Otherwise, you risk people feeling more shattered if we focused solely on what it feels like to be shielding or to not have seen children and grandchildren for more than a year."

Graphic illustrations (Credit: Nicola Winstanley)


In the final session, participants performed the full co-created dance routine. This included eleven movement sequences that represented significant aspects of their conversations over the twelve sessions.

Comments from participants suggest that taking part in these sessions had helped them to feel uplifted, more confident and prepared for the day ahead, putting them in a positive frame of mind and limbering up the body for the physical tasks ahead. Comments included:

  • "I'm feeling totally exhilarated - thank you so very much."
  • "I really enjoyed the session and I’m looking forward to going out to do some gardening."
  • "I feel very calm and ready for Monday."
  • "I thought that was excellent and it's really cheered me up!"
  • "That was great fun and I'm feeling really quite energised to get on with something that I've been really apprehensive about."
  • "I get physically tired and then I get stressed because I get annoyed with myself, but doing something like this lifts the spirits and things are starting to move."

All of the people who participated in the programme said that they thought the experience was excellent and that it had helped them to feel more connected through a really difficult time. Many said that having a weekly opportunity to express themselves physically and socially had made them feel more mindful and improved their sense of wellbeing. 

For Autin Dance Theatre, the programme has been successful in its mission to tackle isolation and wellbeing in a group of older people. “The most important thing for me," says Johnny, "is that the people involved told me that they felt less isolated, they have a greater sense of well-being and mindfulness and that they were more confident with movement.”

Following the programme, Autin Dance Theatre has gone on to organise further dance sessions for people aged over 55 throughout summer 2021 in the run-up to The Big Brum Boogie, giving participants in the ‘Let’s Get Moving’ programme an opportunity to continue dancing together and to eventually meet to dance together in person when it's safe to do so.

To discover the rest of the Get Creative and Make a Difference projects in England, read our interactive digital publication via ISSUU.