Emily Jenkins

Emily Jenkins, a specialist in dance and health and founder of Move Dance Feel, explains the project and the power of dance in cancer recovery.

When I initiated Move Dance Feel in 2016, to explore the potential of dance in the context of cancer diagnosis and recovery, I did not foresee the remarkable, and multiple, ways in which it can enhance physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Our latest findings, from the second of two research studies conducted alongside the project, have revealed that dance is not only improving participants’ wellbeing, but it can also combat some of the negative side effects associated with cancer treatment, such as severe fatigue, stress and anxiety, and low body confidence.

“Cancer really affects your sense of confidence and your body image. The class restores that sense of body confidence. It makes you less angry at your body.” - Move Dance Feel participant.

My motivation for setting up the project was in finding out that despite cancer survivorship rates improving, approximately 70% of people in the UK report negative side effects between one and ten years after treatment. These side effects are a catalyst for other chronic health conditions, social isolation, poor mental health and cancer reoccurrence. Evidence shows however, that by undertaking physical activity people respond better to treatment, recover more quickly after treatment, maintain wellbeing and reduce their chances of cancer reoccurrence (in some cancers). Dance is a holistic form of physical activity that is also a means of communication - its expressive nature helping participants to form strong social relationships, and process thoughts and feelings that are often difficult to articulate.

“This is a mix of connecting with myself, others, mind and body, a sense of some tightness unbinding.” - Move Dance Feel participant.

With a predicted increase in both cancer diagnosis (4 million people by 2030) and survivorship there is a recognised need within the NHS to improve the care available for people living with and beyond cancer. What’s more, some are calling for a radical shift in the approach to rehabilitative care, as one study explains:

“It appears there are many challenges facing the cancer rehabilitation community and in the authors’ opinion, little will change without a fundamental shift in the values of the health and social care system. We need to move towards a biopsychosocial model of care utilising holistic approaches with a focus on enablement and putting patients goals at the heart of care delivery.”

When going through cancer treatment the body is surrendered, handed over to doctors and controlled by the cancer itself. This can cause a degree of trauma to the body, whereby sensory and emotional connections to it become damaged and in some cases severed. What dance offers in this context is a means of returning to the body and reclaiming control, taking back ownership and in the process reigniting lost connections.

Move Dance Feel is one of many Dance and Health initiatives that promote mind body unity, helping participants to develop a greater understanding of the body and an ability to attune to its needs. Over time, this may help participants to become more self-sufficient and less dependent on health services.

“Before I came to this class I had just stopped. I walked and talked and breathed, and I ate a lot of junk food, but I had stopped. And this group has turned everything around. It’s made me active in so many ways. I’m so busy now! I’ve gone from fatigue to exhaustion, but they are very different! It’s given me more of a purpose.” - Move Dance Feel participant.

With the aim of integrating dance into mainstream care programmes Move Dance Feel is situated in different cancer support organisations, offered as regular provision to their Centre users. The project is for adult women, with any type of cancer, at any stage in their cancer experience - having just been diagnosed, undergoing treatment, or post treatment. It is also for women who are supporting someone with cancer.

Photography by Camilla Greenwell.