A report on the MOT Conference

Donald Williamson

Delegates appear to have taken part in an extremely rich feast. People clearly enjoyed the event - and themselves. Delegates were challenged and inspired and made aware of how they could aim further for 'best practice'. Comments varied from the benefits gained by hearing elderly dance project case studies - to learning from other people's fundraising experience - and much else.

There was general recognition and acclaim for the very warm supportive atmosphere throughout the two days time spent together. Experienced presenters and delegates were very free in their sharing of their knowledge - the humility of people who know a lot but are also willing share it was striking. It seems as if dancers and those interested in dance are truly open and supportive by nature, making this conference much more enjoyable for the delegates than is usual.

There was ample opportunity for 'Networking',' Gatekeeping' and the like especially given the diversity and expertise on hand. It was interesting from a geographical point of view that here were many delegates from not only from obvious centres like Liverpool Manchester and London but also there seemed to be a large contingent from less predictable parts of the country, e.g., Nottingham. There was a strong Indian Dance presence. A key feature of Indian Dance is the mingling of the generations. (Can British dancers emulate?) As the conference drew towards a close there was realisation that its obvious success owed much to the fact that it was conceived and organised, somewhat unusually, by a dance practitioner - Bisakha Sarker. There was a lot of dance. There were many kinds of dance on display. There was a general non-specific call to have another such major event in 5 years time ('We owe this to the future') There was a more immediate hope for "A National Festival of Older People Dancing" Francois Matarasso commented that all his prior anxieties about this wonderful event in Liverpool were unnecessary. He re-iterated the general consensus that much of the success was due to it being conceived by a dancer. The range of ages of the participants ages- from 'the young and innocent' to the story tellers of later life' - was striking. Francois remarked that there needs to be a greater awareness of the potential to gain and use 'empowerment' throughout life. (Potential empowerment can fall away with age -older people get pushed aside.) There had been a superb sense of community evident throughout the conference. The quality of contribution was high. Everyone had contributed - even if only by applause! There had been an affirmation of what was important in dance. Older people have the opportunity to develop through dance - and to give their dance to others. The conference exceeded all expectations of organisers and delegates.

The three main conference objectives outlined at the beginning of this conference were met. L It was amply demonstrated that dance opportunities for older people surround us. We are challenged to seek and find further opportunities not only in the voluntary and charity sector but (as in the Wirral example) in the state sector. 2. There should be much encouragement to mature professionals in the fertile scene that confronts us. The very practical comments, e.g., those made by Bisakha Sarker, need to be further explored and developed into a larger, more complete^ professional body of knowledge. 3 .Best practice was well nurtured at the conference. Much more can now be done to make it more widely available, especially to groups of senior citizens in the community. Much more needs to be done to ensure a fuller sharing of acquired knowledge with mature performers throughout the land. Delegates got superb value for money Lessons to be learnt: There was a need for more signposting, for keeping queues down and, in particular. Sound Management. (Many .speakers were confident they could be heard when they couldn't. More thought is needed not only re sound equipment but also re helping all who wish to be heard to be confident in the knowledge that they are heard

The spontaneous gratitude shown by the delegates at the end of the conference must Report writer's POSTSCRIPT Could we hear more not only from Europe but from America (where it was said there was a good body of experience and also from other non-European countries)? There was a happy absence of impenetrable jargon - not sure 'Well Aging' will prove a useful term to aid communication and the cause. Although focus was directed towards another key event in 5 years time, there is now plenty of momentum to feed off for the next two years. Sri Sarker observed that after events of this kind there tended to be an inheritance of 100 ideas all of which could not be pursued. There needs to be something of a meltdown before effective initiatives can move forward. On a personal thought, could a Liverpool based working party be set up involving e.g. Bisakha Sarker, Dr Mukherjee, Julia Hanna, Jackie Guy and a marketing-oriented member - to look at what could be done to spread word and practice more widely? Could major sponsorship be sought not least from e.g. Help the Aged, Age Concern, Arts Council and Liverpool based charities to construct a marketing communication strategy which would take advantage of the spotlit possibilities offered in 2008 by Liverpool City of Culture? Given the success of feature films like Billy Elliot and Calendar Girls, there is scope for another popular film featuring dance and the elderly.

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.

Donald Williamson

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