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‘Dance to Health’ – a story of the arts and the health mainstream

Tim Joss, founder and Chief Executive of Aesop in the UK discusses how the arts can be used to address major health issues.

We love the arts. Yet health is not harnessing the astonishing levels of engagement, enjoyment and fulfilment that the arts achieve. And there’s a widespread view in the UK health sector that the arts are nothing but fluff – nice-to-have and peripheral but nothing to do with mainstream health services.

Aesop is a bridge-builder between the health and arts sectors. We help arts enterprises in health grow and, to underpin this, have developed a range of concepts and tools.

Dance to Health is the first potential ‘aesop’: an arts enterprise with a social purpose which, from an artistic perspective, must be full of artistic opportunity and involve suitably qualified, high quality artists. From a health perspective, it must address a significant health challenge and, as with any other programme for patients, be evidence-based, effective, cost-effective, sustainable and scalable.

The major health challenge addressed by Dance to Health is older people falling over. For an older person a fall is likely to lead to lost confidence, reduced independence and increased isolation. For the UK’s National Health Service, the cost of falls is $4 billion AUD per year. Evidence-based falls prevention exercise programmes exist and are very effective but there are problems with delivery. 

Working with top dance organisations already expert in working with older people, we ran a AUD $600,000 pilot programme from July 2015 to June 2016. An evaluation was published in February 2017. For this we used the Aesop PHE Framework (launched in 2016 and already downloaded 3,600 times). 


The evaluation’s conclusions included: 

  • Dance artists can be trained in the evidence-based falls prevention exercise programmes. They can ‘smuggle’ the programmes into creative, sociable and fun dance. And doing this was a stimulating and enjoyable challenge for the artists.  
  • The final two groups were inspected for fidelity to the evidence-based programmes. Fidelity was confirmed.
  • Retention and completion rates were better than average rates for the standard exercise programmes. 
  • The key difference and advantage of dance was its holistic approach and the potential use of creativity, imagination, group connection and music. 
  • Dance to Health is capable of being associated with lower overall costs of managing falls compared to the primary prevention programme or no intervention.
  • A business model for early-stage roll-out was successfully devised.

We have now started rolling out Dance to Health across England and Wales. We’re calling this early phase ‘test and learn’. While Dance to Health’s core elements are clear, it will give us the chance to try out many new ideas and partnerships. Costing AUD $4 million, it runs from April 2017 to September 2019.

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Tim JossTim is a social entrepreneur and bridge-builder.

He is founder and Chief Executive of Aesop whose mission is to help health and social care harness the power of the arts and help the arts contribute effectively to health and social care. Aesop’s breakthroughs include: the Aesop PHE Framework for evaluating arts in health programmes (commissioned by Public Health England and endorsed by Arts Council England); the first programme linking the arts with health economics; the first national arts in health event specifically for health decision-makers; and the first UK survey of older people’s dance activities (launched at the House of Lords in November 2016).

Tim has founded several other national organisations including the Bath Literature Festival, National Numeracy and the Arts Impact Fund, the first arts-specific social investment fund. Past positions include Director of the Rayne Foundation, and Artistic Director & Chief Executive of the Bath International Music Festival.

The French Government appointed him a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2005.