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Head over Heels Intergenerational Dance Project

6 November 12 -- jsuess

In early 2012 Helen Fountain, Reminiscence Officer at the Museum of Oxford, worked with colleagues to bring together an intergenerational group to devise a short dance piece inspired by reminiscence memories to be performed at the opening of the museum’s “Head over Heels” exhibition. The aim of the project was to provide an additional layer of interpretation to the exhibition, and to pilot a method for sharing the memories collected as part of the museum’s reminiscence programme.

The Museum of Oxford’s community reminiscence group, Memory Lane, meets monthly to share their stories; all sessions are recorded and participants receive a copy, and a copy is deposited at the Oxfordshire History Centre.  In early 2012 Helen linked the reminiscence sessions with the theme of the museum’s upcoming exhibition “Head over Heels”.

Museum of Oxford 'Memory Lane' group with Oxford's Lord Mayor

Head over Heels was a Renaissance funded partnership project between the Oxfordshire County Museums Service, the Museum of Oxford and the Oxford University Museums to look at hats and shoes made and used in Oxfordshire. The project culminated in a major exhibition at the Oxfordshire Museum, and a community exhibition at the Museum of Oxford.

Helen collected memories on hats and shoes worn in previous eras and the local Oxford shops where they had been purchased, and looked for ways that these memories could feed into the exhibition.  Some members of the group lent objects to the museum to form displays, there was a series of portraits of members of the group wearing their own hats from the past, the exhibition included a listening station for visitors to hear recorded memories, and there was the dance project.

For the dance project Helen partnered with Clare Thompson, Oxford City Council Arts Officer for Dance and Theatre, Angela Conlan, an independent dance practitioner, and Aimée Payton, the collections officer working on the Head over Heels project from Oxford ASPIRE.

The project targeted Windmill Primary School in Headington to find young people to join members of the Memory Lane group as dancers.  Helen, Angela, and a small group of Memory Lane members attended an assembly and delivered a short historical hat workshop, dance activity and talk on what it was like to be a student 50 years ago.  Flyers explaining how to get involved were handed out.

They were successful in drawing together 7 participants ranging in age from 7 to 77 years who attended 5 Saturday morning rehearsals. The group listened to the collected memories and looked at archive photos and objects and then improvised some short dance pieces, which were then put together into a larger performance.

The rehearsals provided participants with learning opportunities as heritage learning was built into each rehearsal to provide a break from physical activity. Participants found that “working with the different generations really added to the experience”, and the fact that the histories they studied were real caught and sustained their interest.

The Head over Heels Dance Project group rehearsing

The piece was finally performed at the opening of the Head over Heels exhibition at the Museum of Oxford in March, and then again at Windmill Primary School, taking it back to the young people involved in the original school visit.

The performance was well received by the exhibition audience, which included the Lord Mayor of Oxford. It provided an alternative creative avenue for accessing the exhibition and reinforced for members of the Memory Lane group the value of sharing their memories.

The Museum of Oxford reminiscence programme is run in collaboration with Oxford ASPIRE as part of a Development Partnership.  ASPIRE seconds a Reminiscence Officer to the museum and provides them with a budget to deliver projects and supports a steering group to help frame their work.