Dancing through cancer: how a new project is helping women with cancer

In a special guest post Emily Jenkins, founder of Move Dance Feel, introduces her project and writes about the work she does to support women living with cancer.


I love to dance. Be it in my kitchen, on the train platform, or (more appropriately) at a festival, I like to move. Why? Because it brings release, it’s revitalising, and it eases tensions in my mind and body. Dancing helps me to breathe better, sleep better, and feel more alive.

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Emily Jenkins

We are all capable of dancing, despite the self-conscious mind telling us otherwise. Far too often people concern themselves with the aesthetics of dance: how it looks, rather than how it feels.

I work with different  groups in community and arts contexts, and in recent years have specialised in an area known as Dance and Health. Using dance in health contexts is not a new phenomenon, though due to greater recognition of its benefits and connection to wellbeing it is rapidly growing in popularity.

My job is to break down preconceived ideas of what dance is, and inspire people to move in a way that feels good for them. I use creative techniques that encourage a greater understanding of and appreciation for the body, focusing on self-expression. Through shared, positive experiences, dance can promote social cohesion and help to build meaningful relationships based on trust and understanding.

Dance is a multifaceted art form which very much accommodates the multidimensional needs of people. In contrast to Western medicine, which often compartmentalises illness, dancing addresses the whole body, which in turn acknowledges the whole being – physically, mentally, and emotionally. This can have transformative effects on participants, as they get to know a part of themselves perhaps previously overlooked.

In 2016 I launched a project in East London, Move Dance Feel, providing free weekly dance and movement sessions for women affected by cancer. I established the project to explore what dance could offer in the context of cancer recovery, and to address a recognised need for post-treatment support.

My first personal encounter with cancer was in my teens, as I witnessed my grandfather wrestle with the devastating effects of melanoma. I recall visiting him shortly before he died and being very affected by how much the disease had taken him over. The image of his emaciated frame had a profound impact on me. Over time, as I supported friends living with cancer, I particularly noticed the overwhelming effects on the body, and also the mind.

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Move Dance Feel session

A motivation for setting up Move Dance Feel was learning that 70% of people affected by cancer report negative physical, emotional, and mental side effects between 1 and 10 years after treatment – a statistic that I found very hard to digest. At the same time, I read that physical activity proved effective in reducing the negative side effects of cancer treatment, as well as reducing the risk of reoccurrence, so I was puzzled as to why dance wasn’t being offered.

Originating at a community centre in Bromley-By-Bow with a Macmillan Social Prescribing Service, Move Dance Feel is now running in three cancer support organisations across London, providing sessions at Maggie’s Barts and Paul’s Cancer Support Centre as well. The project is for adult women (18+) with any type of cancer, including those who are supporting someone with cancer. We welcome people at different stages in their journey (pre, during and post treatment) and no prior dance experience is necessary. Participants are also welcome to bring along a female friend.

At the heart of Move Dance Feel is artistic practice, where women come together to dance instead of talk about their cancer. They meet each week to be active, creative and, most importantly, to laugh and have fun.

My favourite aspect of the project is meeting other women. As a communicative art form, dance provides insight into people’s characters and enables intimate moments of exchange. More often than not, these moments are energised and playful, but they can also be nurturing and grounding in times of instability. The nature of this exchange helps to experience a sense of belonging and can lead to feelings of self-discovery, learning from others how to help ourselves.

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Dancing at Move Dance Feel

My aim is to integrate dance as a permanent offer within cancer care programmes, and further evidence of its need within the public health sector. I am also in the process of setting up a performance element of Move Dance Feel to bring a sense of visibility to women who are living well during and after cancer – in the hope of inspiring others to dance (even if it’s alone in your kitchen!).


Emily will be running a taster session at our Shine Connect 2019 conference (11th May 2019). To register your interest in the conference and be notified when registration opens, click here!

If you’d like to know more about Move Dance Feel, or let others know it’s available for them, please follow Emily on Facebook or Twitter.

You can also find Emily at www.emily-jenkins.com.

Photos taken by Camilla Greenwell, www.camillagreenwellphotography.com. 

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