Since August 2003, the Community Support Team, provided by East Cheshire Mental Health Provider Service, has been running a circle dance group. The circle dance group takes place in Petersfield Centre in Macclesfield fortnightly on Thursdays from 6 to 8pm. On average, about 18 participants attend the group. I’m an occupational therapist (OT) from Brazil, currently working in the NHS, and I am the facilitator of this group.

I have been teaching circle dance for the past 10 years – to university OT students at the Medical Faculty of the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil and in various health services and at various events both in Brazil and the UK. As an occupational therapist, I have been using circle dance as a group activity, to enable clients to express themselves through their bodies in movement and to relate to others within a secure and friendly environment. Circle dancing promotes a sense of community within a group of individuals. It helps expand a person’s range of movement through the exploration of a variety of rhythms and different dance forms and it is intrinsically enjoyable.

In February 2004 a questionnaire was applied to evaluate the benefits of circle dance. Sixteen participants took part in this survey. Only 20% of them had had previous experience of this kind of activity. The results were very positive! Dancing, meeting people and making friends were mentioned as an important incentive to attend group sessions. The results of the questionnaire revealed that they gained many benefits from participating in the dances. They felt that they gained in confidence, improved their concentration and were more motivated. They also had increased self-esteem, better social skills and were more independent.

Other benefits included: learning a new skill, enjoying the dances and the music, relaxing in a supportive environment and being part of a friendly group. They appreciated the atmosphere that was created by everyone holding hands in a circle, as they focused on repeating the same dance patterns. As if these benefits weren’t enough, 90% of the participants mentioned that, at the end of the session, they were more relaxed and felt happier.

Ana da Costa (L) is a Senior 1 Occupational Therapist. Contact her for further information about circle dance and occupational therapy.

This article first appeared in Grapevine, Spring 2005