Dance to Move

Innovative partnership with Ballet Cymru supports children and young people with juvenile arthritis

Cardiff and Vale University Health Board has collaborated with Ballet Cymru to provide artistic, creative, and inclusive support to children and young people living with juvenile arthritis.

The Paediatric Rheumatology Service was launched in 2019 and is the first specialist service for paediatric rheumatology in Wales. The team cares for children and young people across south, mid, and west Wales who live with rheumatological conditions such as juvenile arthritis.

Dr Joanne May, who set up the paediatric rheumatology service, was inspired to work with Ballet Cymru—an international touring ballet company for Wales that is committed to inclusion and innovation in dance and classical ballet—after recognising the potential for holistic support and an opportunity to enhance patient care beyond the clinical setting.

Dr May said:

“We aim to deliver holistic care but time in clinics is limited which often means the focus is on condition management and treatment. Early on, we recognised that creative interventions would benefit children not only because dance elements would support movement, but also because they provided an opportunity to build confidence and support the wellbeing of children and their families. We also noticed that parents and families might feel isolated and might value opportunities to meet other families with similar experiences. As the service evolved, we wanted to look at what a holistic partnership might look like outside the health setting.”

Funded by Arts Council Wales, the Dance to Move programme was designed collaboratively with Ballet Cymru to provide a unique and transformative experience for children and their families to explore their thoughts, feelings, and capabilities through dance and drawing, while also learning about the creative arts involved in a ballet production such as costume design and storytelling.

Throughout the delivery of the project, we also noticed the unexpected benefits of bringing families together with the clinical teams allowing a better understanding of the needs of patients and their families outside of the clinic environment

Dr May explained:

“While we worked to build a programme that we originally thought was going to be all about the children dancing, what actually happened along the way was that it became less about the performance and more about us all coming together as families.

“The sessions have helped build relationships and communication with parents. It gives us the opportunity to think about patients and their families in the context of their lives and not just related to that short time that we have at appointments.”

Supported by Cymru Versus Arthritis, the family fun days have so far been hosted in Cardiff, Newport, and Carmarthen and incorporated a series of creative workshops including dance, yoga, and drawing. Parents and carers were also invited to participate in mindfulness workshops led by Tim Anfield from Mindful Families.

Louise Lloyd, Access and Inclusion Officer at Ballet Cymru, said:

“The word ballet can often put up barriers, especially for young people who might be in pain or worried. The idea was to make it open, friendly, and inviting and we trialled different formats with breakout spaces and workshops to find out what works.

In the morning, we ran different taster sessions to introduce the young people to different artistic skills and start to build their confidence. Once they felt comfortable and safe enough to come into the dance studio, they worked with the dance education team in the afternoon to create a performance piece and they also created their own costume accessories based on Roald Dahl’s Little Red Riding Hood.

We ended the day with the performance, which was a beautiful moment for families. The children and young people felt included and you could see their confidence grow throughout the day.”

To find out more about Dance to Move, contact Louise Lloyd, Access and Inclusion

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