A project that Trent’s Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dr. Mark Skinner, describes as the one of the most impactful, important, and fun community-engaged projects he has been involved in is celebrating a new milestone.
The Improving Social Inclusion for Canadians with Dementia and their Carers through Sharing Dance project brought together an interdisciplinary team of researchers, dance instructors, older adults, and community partners, to explore how an innovative dance program for people living with dementia in their carers benefited from improved social inclusion.
With funding from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) and the Alzheimer Society of Canada, the project focused on Canada’s National Ballet School’s (NBS) innovative Sharing Dance Older Adults program in the Peterborough and Brandon regions.
“We often use the word serendipity with this project, and it really was,” explains Dean Skinner. “Intellectually, as we know from our experience with the pandemic, I think it was a really important time to be asking questions about stigma and inclusion, especially in the context of how much we, at Trent, value community-engaged scholarship.”
Based out of the Trent Centre for Aging & Society (TCAS), the project was led by Dean Skinner as part of his Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Rural Aging, Health and Social Care program, and Trent alumna, Dr. Rachel Herron '04, CRC in Rural and Remote Mental Health and associate professor at Brandon University. They were joined by TCAS fellow and NBS director, Research and Health, Dr. Rachel Bar, as well as co-investigators Dr. Pia Kontos, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute – University Health Network, and Dr. Verena Menec from the University of Manitoba.
“This project is about the power of creativity and collaboration to address health and social problems and was an exciting opportunity to continue to work with a strong mentor and friend, Dr. Skinner,” says Dr. Herron. “While we were curious to see if Sharing Dance could help address a lack of accessible and enabling programs for people living with dementia in rural places, one of the most valuable learnings from our research was the role that the program played in stigma reduction.”
Setting the stage for the next generation of aging researchers
The research team recently published their findings as both a print and free open-access e-book, Dance, Aging and Collaborative Arts-Based Research. One of the biggest legacies of the project is Trent’s role in establishing the new one-of-a-kind Canada’s National Ballet School Research Institute, which will become a global centre for research on dance and health. Trent is also assisting with the institute’s first research grant application.
“I don't think I've ever been involved in a more collaborative and transdisciplinary project,” says Dr. Bar. “Because everybody came to the table to understand each other's perspective and way of knowing – be it scientific or artistic, we have deepened our understanding of the beautiful way in which dance contributes to the wellbeing of communities.”
The research team involved a dozen research assistants at Trent, Brandon University and NBS, and also created a Ph.D. position at the University of Helsinki and engage three postdoctoral researchers, which strengthened the research expertise associated with TCAS and broadened the project reach internationally. Trent students will also soon have the opportunity to complete co-op placements with the NBS Research Institute.
A case in ‘pointe’ for future aging research
Dean Skinner was also instrumental in establishing a relationship between NBS and peopleCare Communities, who participated in the research project by offering the Sharing Dance program in their long-term care homes.
Trent and peopleCare Communities are collaborating to advance research on aging and enhance student learning through the creation of a new long-term care home located on the University’s Symons Campus, and Prof. Skinner believes that the organization’s passionate participation in this project serves as a good example of what can happen when you bring together universities and collaborators like peopleCare that share a vision to bring about meaningful change in Canada’s long-term care sector and our approach to aging.
The research team will celebrate the launch of their book with three community events hosted at Brandon University, NBS and Trent. The Trent event will take place virtually on March 22 as part of the Aging & Society Seminar Series. Visit the TCAS website for more information.