From May to August on Imagination Matters, we’re focusing on the theme of Empathy. Imagination helps us put ourselves in the minds of others, see things from their perspective and consider how our actions impact them. We’re delighted to share an article from our Imaginator for Empathy, Dame Darcey Bussell, DBE. Read her thoughtful examination of how dance is a medium for empathy and shared experience, and the vital need for these connections in a changing world.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. I like to add ‘and be considerate thereof’.

It is vital that we recognise this key human attribute of empathy, nurture it and grow it amongst us all. Empathy is at the heart of collaboration between human beings and far more has been achieved through collaboration than through competition.

Break The Routine

At this time, it is important to note that communications have accelerated and the urban age is very much here. The development of the key human attribute of empathy now needs to match this development.

Empathy is also at the heart of human daily needs: the need to be loved, thought of, to be in touch, to be touched, to be appreciated.

My main passion is that we should all dance in one way or another for our whole lives. Dance is laced with both empathy and connectivity and dance is an international language for the whole human race. We have been dancing throughout the millennia but recently it has been removed from many cultures, including in Great Britain, with many new leisure activities competing for our time.

we should all dance in one way or another for our whole lives

We can all dance, don’t think otherwise. If you turn on the radio in the kitchen and move to a song that you like, then you are dancing.

My aim is to have dance in our daily lives once again. To have dance fitness as a central part of physical education (PE) in schools and have dance spaces and halls reinvented for the 21st Century so that dance becomes mainstream again.

Get A Move On

As we become a 70% urbanised world in 2050; with obesity now a larger issue than famine; as mental health issues grow with loneliness and feelings of isolation, despite numbering almost 8 billion people – I believe we need dance more than ever.

Dance is inexpensive, it is simple, it increases social connectivity and makes you feel good with its release of positive endorphins. It celebrates diversity and can be done by all. It is aerobic, it builds strength and coordination, it is good for your mental health as well as your physical well being. Dance fosters creativity, it is good for the young, the middle aged and the elderly. If it was made into a well being pill, it would be a pharmaceutical blockbuster!

Keep Up

We all need to learn from the Cubans when they salsa, the South Americans when they Tango, Spanish doing Flamenco, Nigerians dancing Akwa Ibom, the Japanese when they dance Bon-Odori, or do their wonderful Rajio Taisou.

If dance was made into a well being pill, it would be a pharmaceutical blockbuster!

In Great Britain we have a particular problem: our young people are not moving. When referring to British children, Dr Steven Mann, research director at the health body UK Active, says: “Movement has been stripped out of modern living for children, meaning Generation Inactive are driven to school and fed a staple diet of sofa play and screen time”.

New Steps

With a small group of dance professionals I have founded a not-for-profit: Diverse Dance Mix (DDMIX). It is a dance fitness program made up of over 30 genres including Japanese, the Haka, line dance, flamenco, the Charleston and even 1980s Rocky. I believe that to receive the benefits of dance, every child should have exposure to multiple dance styles and not be subject to examination. Multiple dance styles means children are engaged, don’t get bored, get an appreciation for diversity, and it’s simply more fun. DDMIX for schools is designed to work straight into PE lessons. I advocate that all school children should do a minimum of four units of PE a week.

I am proud to champion empathy for the Institute of Imagination’s Imagination Matters campaign. Progress at the global level, or progress as we go about our daily lives, is only possible if we empathise and care for others. We must foster and strengthen our ability to understand and share the feelings of another and be considerate thereof.

Posted by:Dame Darcey Bussell DBE

Darcey is one of the most famous British ballet dancers of all time. She trained at the Royal Ballet School and joined the company in 1987. She was promoted to Principal in 1989 at just 20 years old. She retired from The Royal Ballet in 2007 and now supports and documents dance worldwide. She is the President of the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD), a judge on 'Strictly Come Dancing' and presents The Royal Ballet's worldwide cinema simulcasts, amongst her many activities.

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