Xpress-Yourself, one year on

It was one year ago tonight that Boris told the nation to stay away from public areas, such as theatres, and Xpress-Yourself closed the doors to our Keep Dancing classes, our work in care homes had already been suspended until further notice. That evening was shocking and daunting and absolutely devastating. With no idea of when, or if, it would be safe for us to start dancing again. At that point, the full extent of the pandemic was unknown.

One year on from March 2020, we are all grieving. Many have lost loved ones, and we have all experienced the long-lasting effects of Covid-19 on physical and mental health, livelihoods, families, friendships, communities, education and businesses. We grieve for all that has been lost, and with all those who have lost.

Whilst we were fortunate in that we were able to move our Keep Dancing classes online quickly and we truly value the support you have shown us over the last twelve months the effects of the last 12 months will be felt by us all for a long time to come. However whilst the last twelve months have been challenging, so many positive things for Xpress-Yourself have come to fruition and if we can harness that same spirit and continue to work together to rebuild, recover and reignite; just think what we can achieve.

As part of moving our classes online we worked with NRCM, who worked quickly to ensure we had an easy booking system designed when creating our new website. This now means that we now finally have a booking system in place which going forward will help us operate the running of our classes more efficiently. We have increased our social media following and created two Facebook groups to support our keep dancing community to ensure they are Keeping Strong and Steady whilst staying at home and our Activity Ideas for Activity Coordinators to support activity staff in care homes navigate their way through this incredibly difficult time engaging our elders living care homes in meaningful activities. We have also been working on our YouTube channel uploading videos to demonstrate exercises and routines to keep people moving.

The move to online Keep Dancing classes on Zoom also means that when life returns to ‘normal’ and we experience inclement weather we have the opportunity to to still run sessions rather than cancelling them.

Through social media we have built new relationships with organisations like The Colebridge Trust, consequently being offered training opportunities like Dementia Friend Training and Mental Health Awareness for Sport and Physical Activity course. We have also built relationships with Arts In The Yard and as a result have been featured in United in Yardley newsletter and also now regularly host online tea dances for Building Community Together.

In December, Faye O’Connor took on the challenge of dancing for 24 hours in her kitchen to support the Alzheimer’s Day Elf Day, raising £1850. This is something that would never have happened before the pandemic and with support from the Xpress-Yourself staff team, dancers and other dancing friends, Faye was able to complete her challenge and already has plans how to top it this year.

We now also run a weekly Greatest Hits class Keep Dancing class which revisits previous Keep Dancing routines and is actually one of our most popular classes. It’s known as the party class as it gives people the Friday Feeling and is always full of fun.

In November working with NRCM and Stick N Stitch we launched our own Just smile and keep dancing merchandise with mugs and sweatshirts to increase revenue and are available to purchase from our website.

Keen to offer more opportunity for people to socialise with one another outside our online Keep Dancing classes in February we started running a monthly online coffee morning. This is not funded and is free to attend and hopefully works to bring people together and smile. Everyone’s invited, and are asked to bring their favourite mug and in return they can enjoy an hour of chit chatter with lovely people and a chance to escape their four walls.

Whilst we look forward to the day where we welcome all our dancers back, our fantastic teachers returning to all of their classes and being able to dance with residents living in care homes once again we have a lot to be thankful for and we should be proud of the fact our business is still surviving. We are thankful for the support of our the Xpress-Yourself team, your patience and understanding over this whole year will always be appreciated and we think about the halls that we hire that have been standing empty, we are grateful for the support that you still continued to show us.

Whilst we hope that Keep Dancing classes can return after the 17th May, we are now working with our teachers and venues to put plans in place. Our timetable might look different to the beginning of March 2020 but we very much look forward to the day when we can see our dancers outside of a box and hold the hands of people living in care homes.

For now though we will continue to just smile and keep dancing.