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Dancers dancing in the park

Park and jive: DanceWest helps community cope with grief, Covid with free dance classes

Free dance classes were held in a Hammersmith park by a west London dance charity on Saturday.

DanceWest taught attendees at Ravenscourt Park how to jive, salsa and, for under 10s, dance a routine inspired by Disney’s Frozen as part of a week-long scheme.

The Hammersmith and Fulham council-funded Dance in the Park (DITP) programme has provided escape from grief.

Bruce Taylor, 65, a semi-retired art psychotherapist living in Brixton, and second-time DITP attendee, said: “I kinda need distraction, personally, because I’m about to cremate my partner of 25 years.

“To be enveloped with grief all that time is just too much to bear.

“Coming along to a park with nice people, doing a bit of fun dancing is a great break for me before I steel myself for what I have to face in the next 48 hours.”

Created to address post-coronavirus lockdown challenges last summer, DITP has the same aim in 2021.

Run for all ages and abilities, DITP is in its third week of activities this year.

NHS psychotherapist Carol Victoria, 28, a dancer retired through injury who teaches for fun, led Saturday’s salsa sessions.

She said: “I’ve had people tell me for them dance is their therapy, and there’s nothing so great as being outside, communicating with others, sharing your movements with others and just being free after being locked up for 18 months.”

Victoria noted being outdoors helps with social distancing and reduces worry about Covid-19.

There were smiles all round as attendees learned to salsa. Image credit: Nick McAlpin

DanceWest community programme manager Florence Hawkins, 29, said the boredom surrounding coronavirus prompted her to vary the styles at DITP.

“I wanted people to come out and dance and just try out all these different classes.”

Starting with Frozen at 10am, last week’s “Dance the Decades” style, 1960s jive, began at midday and salsa at 2pm.

Each lesson lasted 30 minutes and ran twice, with half-hour breaks between classes.

This week, flamenco expert Sam Quy, a coach on BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing, will lead sessions on Friday at 2pm and 3pm in Fulham’s South Park.

Hawkins noted many attendees keep coming back.

She also explained the relaxed setup, without dance studio mirrors, reduces self-consciousness.

“Because it’s outside, there’s a certain sense of… you lose your inhibitions – there’s a bit more carefreeness”.

Tracey Hardcastle, 47, attended multiple sessions on Saturday, bringing her daughter.

“They can’t get rid of us now” she said.

Hardcastle praised DITP for being free, saying: “All you’ve got to do is turn up. There’s not many things that are free that are as good.”

She also noted fitness benefits.

“Everybody’s exercising without realising it because you’re just following on with all the dance moves.”

DITP will be at South Park from Thursday to Sunday, and Richmond’s Orleans House Gallery between 8 and 12 September.

Booking and scheduling information is available at https://www.dancewest.co.uk/dance-in-the-park.

Featured image credit: Nick McAlpin

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