Bronwyn Tarr’s Fellowship allowed her to build interdisciplinary collaborations that explore how movement and music might help combat loneliness, a widespread public health concern in the UK. Bronwyn’s previous experimental research has helped shape our thinking on how synchronised rhythmic dancing contributes to social cohesion.
She explains how, ‘having spent time trying to understand the nuts and bolts behind the social benefits of music and dance in the lab, I wanted to learn more about how these activities actually help improve well-being. I became interested in whether my research might help inform the alleviation of loneliness because, in many respects, it is experienced as an absence of the positive social effects (like strong social relationships and a sense of belonging) encouraged by dance and music.’
Despite extensive research linking loneliness with negative health consequences, including anxiety, depression, and decreased life expectancy, loneliness remains clinically undefined, making it difficult to tackle. There is a call for new, creative strategies to combat this public health priority, and Bronwyn argues that Dance Movement Psychotherapy (DMP) may offer a solution. This psychotherapeutic practice uses movement to foster emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration.
Although it has long been used to help with depression and anxiety, it has not yet been applied to loneliness. But various existing DMP practices could theoretically help with loneliness–e.g. therapists often use movement mirroring to build trust, which the BBC Loneliness Experiment report is lacking among lonely people.
With support from the TORCH KE Fellowship, Bronwyn invited DMP and music therapy practitioners, loneliness researchers, volunteers from Archway (a local charity for loneliness), and artists from Justice in Motion (an Oxford-based Physical Theatre Company) to participate in a Knowledge Exchange Workshop. ‘The aim was to start a collective and interdisciplinary exploration into how we might tackle loneliness. I hoped to learn more about how my work on the psychological and physiological effects of dance might interface with the work of therapy practitioners’, she explains.
She adds, ‘I also wanted to learn from loneliness researchers about their framing of the problem, and from people with lived experiences and stories about loneliness, to encourage us to collectively think about what loneliness might actually feel like. It was really important to include a range of participants not just from academia’.
The workshop was diverse and varied, with one participant recalling ‘because it was a small group, the time spent discussing each other’s work and experiences was rich. Plus, we didn’t just talk, we also moved.’ Dancers and a composer lead activity exploring the sound and shape of loneliness alongside brainstorming about the potential to integrate different research streams.
As a trained dancer herself, Bronwyn explains how ‘dancers are experts in experimenting with the emotional power of the moving body, and the embodied experience of phenomena like loneliness.’ With further support from the Theatre Seed Fund, the initial KE workshop laid the foundation for an ongoing artistic collaboration between Bronwyn and the dancers and choreographer from Justice in Motion.
Before the Covid-19 lockdown, they hosted a movement workshop with people with lived experience of loneliness from Archway, and they have since re-imagined the project in light of social distancing restrictions, and the fact that now more than ever before, people are talking about and experiencing social isolation and loneliness.
They are currently working on a dance-film inspired by voices from Archway, which involves recording conversations with Archway participants, composing soundscapes intertwined with their voices and choreographies which explore loneliness, and how important it is now, more than ever before, to Move Together.
Knowledge Exchange Fellowships Brochure