Older Men Moving – An interview with lead dance artist Will Palmer

A beach ball goes flying through the air, arcing across the room, before landing in the hands of a smiling older man. He hits it and sends it flying again, this time across the room to another man. Bangladeshi music plays enthusiastically in the background as this collection of older men volley the ball around to warm up. This is one of the Older Men Moving classes, and it is just getting started.

 In February 2013, Green Candle Dance Company were awarded an ‘innovation bursary’ by Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to start a new project called Older Men Moving, which initiated an intercultural dance class for overlooked groups of disadvantaged men. Over a nine month period, three groups of men each participated in 30 workshops that engaged them in new forms of exercise they may not have had access to beforehand. Each group met weekly at Mayfield House Somali Day Centre, Horwood Estate Bangladeshi Lunch Club or Sundial Day Centre Shipley Street, eager to spend time with some new friends while keeping active.

Will Palmer, the leader of Older Men Moving, was able to give more insight on the purpose and his experience with the course. The project began as a promotion for health and fitness for older men through dance. As a male dance teacher and performer, Palmer recognised that, “Men don’t get the opportunity [to dance] as much as women… Men are a bit more reluctant.” Older Men Moving functioned as a dance and exercise class that promoted health and fitness but also “a social network for men to come in and socialise with other people their age.”

Palmer organised the workshops in a way that engaged each participant to the best of their abilities. Classes began with a warm-up and gentle exercises using props. Depending on the ability of the men, these exercises could be done standing up or sitting down. Palmer then taught a sequence of movement to the participants. Each week they built upon the sequence, eventually creating a dance. After working up an appetite, the men would have the opportunity to get to know one another over lunch, giving the groups the chance to transform into a community of good friends.

The Older Men Moving workshops have shown to be very beneficial for the men. Before the course began, all of the groups went through a series of physical tests. Green Candle’s Suzanne Firth examined participants’ ability to complete tasks that tested their cardiovascular strength, lower body flexibility, endurance, and general fitness. Pulse rates were recorded before, during, and after each task. Once the series of classes came to a close, the same test was given to calculate improvement. Palmer and Firth found that the course was extremely successful in improving the men’s health. There had been a 93% improvement in flexibility, 79% improvement in cardiovascular strength, and 79% improvement in general fitness. Palmer stated that, “Over the sessions… you see them getting stronger and stronger.” Not only that, but, “you see them all come together.” He saw that the men were not only stronger physically, but mentally and socially as well. Palmer recollected the experience of a specific participant who showed up to the first class looking dishevelled and only willing to perform little or slow movements. “I pushed him more than others, but he really latched onto that. By the end, he had better self-esteem. He dressed better, was more awake and was chattier.”

Palmer felt that the most memorable aspect of the course was when two of the three groups met over lunch and discussed their experiences. It was an incredibly positive event for both groups of men. They came from completely different backgrounds, but the course served as common ground to spark conversation and create new friendships.

The success of Older Men Moving has inspired Green Candle to think about the future. After such a positive first run with Older Men Moving, it was necessary for the programme to continue. With the aid of funds from Public Health, Tower Hamlets, Green Candle were able to continue Older Men Moving for another term. In this new term, the programme was able to include a new group of older Bangladeshi men from the Bancroft Estate.

 Now in 2015 Green Candle are happy to have started the project again with funding from the Lee Wright Trust and City Bridge Trust. Will Palmer is once again leading the workshops with the original two groups at Mayfield House Somali Day Centre and Horwood Estate Bangladeshi Lunch Club. This will progress to three groups from April 2015, when the CCG has commissioned Green Candle to deliver a new men only session in Limehouse. Green Candle Dance Company is delighted that Older Men Moving can continue to encourage men, no matter their age or ability, to keep moving and dancing through life.

(Interview by Bridget Creel and edited by Catie McRoskey)
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