We are delighted to be sharing the work of Karen Parkinson as our next Power of Dance in Lockdown article! Karen, also known as Kaz, works as a Dance Practitioner and Fitness Instructor and since 2019 has been running KazJ Fit. Pre Covid Karen split her time between leading fitness sessions and working with a variety of dance companies in the Plymouth area, including: Plymouth Dance, Exim Dance Company, Far Flung Dance Theatre, Wheelfever and Eldertree Befriending Services. When describing her work Karen says “I am passionate about sharing my love of dance, I believe everyone can dance, I also believe dance should be fun; when it is fun you forget you are moving…then you get fitter and healthier too!!”
A majority of Karen’s work is situated around older adults, disabled adults/young people and people with additional health/medical needs. At the time of the first lockdown Karen reflected that within 36hours all of her work had stopped causing a very severe impact on her daily life, unsure of how to survive both financially and mentally. Looking back on the process to setting up her online timetable Karen said she was “offered a lifeline”; at the time I had no idea what an impact it would have. Plymouth Dance partnering with Cheshire Dance supported me to set up online sessions using the Zoom platform, helping me support those who attend my physical sessions to access my online timetable.”. Karen reflected over this period of transition saying before being contacted by June Gamble, Coordinating Producer for Plymouth Dance, “I remember feeling in a pit of despair and wouldn’t have made the leap so quickly.”.
Now Karen has completely taken off and is running a busy weekday timetable; delivering 320 live online sessions with over 2200 attendees between April 2020 and February 2021. Karen stated “from the 13people that attended the very first session I now have 98 people on the register and we have welcomed 56 new people to our sessions.”. Karen offers all of her KazJ Fit online sessions through a donation basis helping ensure those who cannot financially contribute are not excluded and people who are able to pay do so. Karen’s timetable has offered a range of movement classes “We have enjoyed dance, stretch sessions, balance and coordination sessions along with fitness classes and coffee mornings” but the classes have also been more than that; “Friendships have been formed, sewing patterns exchanged, old acquaintances reunited all to the backdrop of the change of seasons in my garden.”.
In addition to this Karen has also been involved in creating pre-recorded videos for Far Flung Dance Theatre and Plymouth Dance and has also completed filming for a new Wellness DVD working alongside Living Options Devon. Karen says she feels extremely fortunate to continue to work with Exim Dance Company and Far Flung Dance Theatre facilitating further online sessions towards the end of 2020 and into 2021. She reflects that “although the quantity of my work has greatly reduced over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to work at all. While I am dancing and moving I have passion and drive, that is what adapting to an online format has given me.”.
Karen highlighted that there have been some challenges working in an online setting and has put a great deal of work in to adapt the content of each session. With participants engaging through a screen there is often a lack a visibility regarding seeing the full body, Karen being mindful of the health a safety implications has been wise about her class content, for example keeping the warm up aerobic with the same moves to provide familiarity at the beginning, allowing people to feel safe but to ensure people’s internet connections are well established before moving on to something new. Karen noted at times working with the challenge of online sessions can feel like there is less flexibility and creativity with what she is able to offer and that it would be better to be in a room together.
However, this feeling is short lived when reflecting on the unique moments this time has captured, “I have found it very interesting how individuals have really connected with each other and myself over the zoom platform. It offers a very unique base to learn each other’s names and chat to people who might have been part of a different group. The addition of coffee mornings into our schedule really helped make connections and the ease of contact outside of the sessions via email, text and Whatsapp have all contributed to a real sense of belonging.”.This is further enforced with moments Karen’s sessions included such as, bringing faces close to the screen and seeing everyone smile at each other during a session or sharing a piece of outdoors through garden sessions where the singing birds are often so clear they’re mistaken for music. Karen commented on this saying “Welcoming people into my home has been really good fun! I always knew I am very lucky to live where I do, I have a garden filled with beautiful singing birds but even now when I am leading sessions from my garden (which I do whenever possible) people comment on the glorious sound and visual setting I am in. I am very grateful to my incredible neighbours who have now become so accustomed to me dancing around my garden they don’t bat an eyelid!”
Whilst this past year has been a challenging and extraordinary series of events its great to see how people are finding new moments of joy and connection through the wonderful work organisations and artists are undergoing. If you’d like to get involved in Karen’s work then check out some of the links below and stick with us as we share more inspiring reflections from those across plymouth.