If life gives you lemons... Preston's LemonDANCE group on combatting Covid isolation through the power of dance

As a professional dancer, teacher, and choreographer with over 14 years’ experience, David Darcy knows the power of dance better than most. And it’s for precisely that reason that, in late 2019, he started LemonMEN, a new community group giving men a chance to explore movement and wellbeing.

By Jack Marshall, Reporter
Thursday, 16th December 2021, 4:55 am
LemonDANCE participants

Since then, the operation has grown considerably, with the overarching LemonDANCE Community Interest Company now incorporating LemonMEN as well as LemonLADIES sessions led by Laura Worden and LemonDANCE classes open to anyone over the age of 18.

“LemonDANCE is my husband David’s brainchild,” says Sean Darcy, LemonDANCE’s Business Development Lead. “As a professional dance teacher who’s worked with vulnerable communities for many years, he was interested in using that experience to develop a men-only session to support people’s mental and physical health through dance. It’s all grown from there, really.”

Designed to promote good physical health by getting people moving in a welcoming setting, the motivation behind LemonDANCE - which holds sessions at Plungington Community Centre - also combats social isolation and mental health issues. As their mantra goes: ‘when life gives you lemons, make DANCE!’

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LemonDANCE members performing

“We’re mindful of people’s anxiety: engagement as part of a group can be scary so we offer to meet outside of sessions for a coffee or over Zoom to give people the chance to meet us and ask us questions,” says Sean, 41. “Even the word ‘dance’ can make people think ‘I can’t do that’, but it’s not about that. It’s about giving people a safe space, so communication is key.

“Exploring movement without any expectations is unique and the feedbackhas been brilliant, which shows that people enjoy it, that it improves their health, and that it promotes community cohesion,” he adds. “It’s so important to me, David, and Laura to support people in any way we can; you see a real difference in them.”

Because it requires such a broad array of physical skills such as balance, strength, and endurance, dance has been shown to be one of the most effective things an individual can do to stay fit.

But, on top of that, it also has a profound impact on mental health, too: a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society linked dancing with stronger global brain cognition.

LemonDANCE members during their 21-mile Preston Guild Wheel walk

What’s more, it’s quite hard to dance without a smile on one’s face by dint of it simply being a fun thing to do. And that notion of fun is aptly reflected by the group’s recent charity walk around the 21-mile Preston Guild Wheel. “We hadn’t seen each other for ages so it was a lot of walking, talking, and dancing at points!” says Sean. “It was really powerful.”

Having adapted to lockdown by moving their weekly sessions onto Zoom, Sean - who is from Preston - says that the key for LemonDANCE during Covid was to recognise that people would be impacted differently and to tailor support accordingly so as to be best-placed to support participants.

“When lockdown hit, we were just realising the group’s potential, so we knew we had to keep that connection with people going despite the fact that everyone was living a different life day-to-day,” explains Sean, with LemonDANCE now receiving funding from the Police and Crime Commissioner. “What we offered was person-centred because not everyone was in the same place.

“Being involved is almost overwhelming because, for one hour a week, you know that you’ve made a positive impact on somebody’s life and you can’t really ask for more than that,” he adds. “Week-to-week, life can be difficult for people, so we’re there to support people no matter how their place on the mental health continuum manifests itself.

“We’re open and our sessions are free so anybody who’s interested or who needs us can send us a message on Facebook or on the website. We’re always here.”