In 2019 Helena ran a dance and choreography course at HMP Wormwood Scrubs with Seacole, the mental health unit at the prison. The project was led by Helena, fellow dancer Marc Stevenson and Occupational Therapist at Seacole Jenny Joyce. We worked with a core group of 9 guys who we danced, chatted and ate with over 8 weekly sessions. The project aimed to give space for participants to be silly, expressive and vulnerable in a hostile, hyper masculine environment.

Due to the nature of prison, we couldn't photograph or film the participants much but it was paramount that their work was seen/heard/experienced outside the prison walls. So we used a sound recorder to audio describe and document dances.

These recordings were made when the group were practising flocking, which is a dance improvisation tool we worked a lot with in the sessions to get the group moving together. It's a bit like follow the leader except you're in a clump and when the "leader" turns around, someone else is at the front and they become the "leader".

1 leg, 2 arms is a game where we take it in turns to name a selection of body parts. These are the only body parts that can be in contact with the floor. In this recording you'll hear us playing this game, members of the group call out instructions and you'll hear us struggle and laugh between attempts. Try them yourself.

In this file you will hear the participants of Dance Club at Scrubs reflecting on the project, dancing and silliness.

 

Dance Club at Scrubs

Dance Club sprung from Helena considering what she was really angry about - the fear of walking home alone late at night - whilst simultaneously listening to US podcast Ear Hustle, detailing life inside San Quentin State Prison, California.
Helena had previously worked extensively with men who don't have a background in dance on Dad Dancing, a project by Helena, Alexandrina Hemsley and Rosie Heafford, their three dads and father figures and children of all ages. Dad Dancing broached the subject of what 21st century fatherhood could be and created space for men to share their thoughts and experiences frankly on stage.
From these threads came Dance Club and it's first run at Seacole, the mental health unit at HMP Wormwood Scrubs. Following research into the role and impact of arts and dance in the UK criminal justice system, Helena knew there were a few key areas she wanted to focus on; autonomy and individuality, masculinity, vulnerability, communication and fun. Helena created the course in collaboration with a group of dance artists including Marc Stevenson, who co-led the course with her and Jenny Joyce, occupational therapist at Seacole.
At Scrubs the majority of inmates spend a maximum of 5hrs out of their cells every day, leaving a lot of time for sitting locked in a small room with not much to do other than watch TV. Not good for anyone's body or brain. And when people are unlocked they aren't in a warm friendly environment, people hold their cards close to their chest for protection.
So, we invited people to come to a dance club. Jenny did a great job of recruiting people and we have 18 very excited guys at our taster session. There is a lot of laughter - both nervous and joyous - some gentle ribbing of each other, and a sizeable amount of silliness. The group listen to what we offer. They play games, dance steps we teach them, freestyle around the room, chat about what dance and choreography is and eat bananas and biscuits. Over the following 8 weeks we end up with a core group who try and make every session (prison doesn't always allow). The group start to have favourite tasks and games, there are occasional power struggles between them but we see a lot of support and encouragement too.