Helping people with learning disabilities enjoy dance


3 min read

Wanna Dance

Wanna Dance?, a project run by Cheshire Dance and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) is continuing to go from strength to strength helping people with Profound Intellectual and Multiple Disabilities (PIMD) who are supported by Vivo Care Choices to take part in dance activities.

Vivo, which is now an in-house service at Cheshire West and Chester Council, has worked with Cheshire Dance to provide weekly group dance sessions for members of the Vivo Community across Cheshire for over a decade.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2021 Cheshire Dance developed the pilot project, Wanna Dance? as a way to enable people with PIMD who were unable to access their online provision to keep dancing with Vivo Care Choices staff.

Following the lifting of restrictions, the programme has since gone on to see Vivo service users’ take part in one-to-one face to face sessions with Cheshire Dance artists to explore how they might like to dance. The artists work with each person in the moment, exploring communication and connection beyond words through dance with touch, sensory objects and music.

Jane McLean, Creative Director of Cheshire Dance explains: “Working one-to-one with members of the Vivo Community allows us to respond to a person’s unique movements. This helps us to notice verbal and non-verbal signals and enables us to really understand how our dancing partner likes to dance – and enables us to ensure we really have their consent. As such, we can respond and review our approach in the moment and can provide an enhanced dance experience that is right for each participant. During each and every session we value and celebrate ALL movements together – no matter how small they may seem.”

The project has been highly commended by Vivo staff and family/carers of the participants alike and has since progressed with Cheshire Dance taking up a 12-month Dance Artist in Residency role across the Canal Street and Lightfoot Lodge centres, which began in Autumn 2022.

During this next year, Cheshire Dance will explore how members of the Vivo Community with the most complex needs might want to engage in the art form and will continue to facilitate one-to-one sessions with service users. In addition, staff will be given the opportunity to develop their skills and confidence in facilitating dance with people with profound and complex disabilities.

A staff member involved with the project has said: “It’s great for John to have the choice with his dancing. The Wanna Dance? sessions get him engaged as he’s always laughing and screaming. I think changes in his alertness levels are because of these sessions as he’s developed every week, showing good eye contact and recall.”

Councillor Val Armstrong, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Public Health has commented: “This is another excellent project being run by our in-house service Vivo in partnership with Cheshire Dance and UCLan.

At Vivo, we want to be at the heart of the local community and provide plenty of opportunities for people we support to enjoy life to the full. These sessions not only help people keep active and take part in dance, but it’s all tailored to their own preferences and what they enjoy. It’s clear to see that these sessions are having such a positive impact on the people we support and helping them become more independent.

The Wanna Dance? Programme has been founded upon a commitment to involve people with Profound Intellectual and Multiple Disabilities in decisions about their continuing engagement through dance, with opportunities for their likes, dislikes and preferences to be heard and impacted upon their experience.

Jane McLean continues: “During the first phase of Wanna Dance? we really focused on getting to know our dancing partners, responding to their cues and carefully considering their consent, preferences for dance and wellbeing in every session.

During Phase 2, we will build upon this and will work with staff to provide training that is bespoke and relevant to the Vivo Community member they care for – ensuring activities are manageable for them to replicate. Ultimately, we want the staff to feel confident and comfortable to dance with people with disabilities and for everyone taking part to enjoy the experience.”

The Wanna Dance? Programme sets out to not only explore how people with complex disabilities might like to dance but seeks to re-examine models of how dance artists can work in social care settings with dance artists embedded as members of the staff team, specialising in non-verbal communication and physical expressions. The Wanna Dance? Programme represents another example of a positive outcome for people supported by Vivo.

Cheshire Dance strives to enable everyone to access dance – regardless of age, ability or disability. Some 97% of its work is with people from Protected Characteristics groups. It works extensively with people with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD) and facilitates a national PMLD Networking Group that brings together dance artists from across the UK who seek to develop their skills and understanding of working with Learning Disabled adults with complex needs. The PMLD network meets regularly across the year to share learning, undertake training and develop practice.

For more information on the PMLD Networking Group and the Wanna Dance? Programme, visit:


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