Dancing icon Arlene Phillips CBE shares her moves with former dance teacher with dementia in support of Alzheimer’s Society

Alzheimer’s Society Ambassador and famous choreographer Arlene Phillips CBE spoke and danced with former dance teacher Julie, who is living with dementia, to highlight the importance of keeping active.

Arelene and Julie

Iconic West End choreographer Arlene Phillips CBE put on her dancing shoes for a video call with a former dance teacher living with dementia, to show how people with dementia can stay active during lockdown and to highlight the importance of Alzheimer’s Society services and the need for the charity’s Coronavirus Appeal. 

Support from the Alzheimer’s Society Ambassador comes at a time where people with dementia have been worst hit in terms of deaths and there has been a massive increase of ‘unexplained’ non-virus-related deaths since the start of coronavirus. Many more have been left struggling to cope with a lack of social contact and loss of routine and carers have struggled with an increase in caring duties. 

Arlene spoke and danced with Julie Foster, 58, who had to give up teaching at the dance school she owned for around 37 years after being diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2017 at just 57. Many of Julie’s former pupils have gone on to work in the industry, appearing on the West End and on TV.

Julie was joined on the video call with her husband Peter and got up to join Arlene in a dance routine with help from her carer and former pupil, Zoe, who forms part of Julie’s support bubble. The two dancers bonded over their love of ballet, with Julie mirroring Arlene’s hand gestures, and recalled fond memories of disco dancing to the Bee Gees. Julie also shared pictures from when she worked as a dancer in Damascus, Syria. 

The dance-filled video call comes after recent Alzheimer’s Society statistics revealed that one in three people affected by dementia have spent more than seven days at a time without leaving the house during lockdown. Lockdown has also had a knock-on effect on mental health and sparked an increase in symptoms of those living with the condition.

There is evidence to suggest that physical activity improves confidence and the wellbeing of people with dementia and may slow down mental decline. Alzheimer’s Society has produced expert advice on its website on how people with the condition can stay active during lockdown, which includes activities like dance.

Arlene Phillips CBE said:

'When Julie told me that her favourite type of dance was ballet, it immediately made me think of my father, as he brought us up on classical ballet and it became a huge love of mine.

'When my dad had dementia, I could play him a piece of classical music and whatever his mood was – he would just sit and become who he was, who he remembered himself as.'

'It’s quite extraordinary, how dance and music can live inside your mind when you start to lose other parts of your memory.

'It was a real privilege to talk to Julie and Peter and get some insight into what life in lockdown has been like, as well as share our passion for dance. It’s been an incredibly hard time for people with dementia, which is why Alzheimer’s Society’s Coronavirus Appeal is so needed, to ensure no-one has to face this current crisis alone.'

Julie’s Husband, Peter Foster added:

'Julie has been dancing since she was four years old. Dance is a great leveller because when things aren’t right and when she’s feeling down, music can lift her spirit and Julie will either join in or remember things from the past that are associated with that song.

'Julie has been dancing for over five decades – it’s her whole life and we’ll treasure this fantastic experience talking to Arlene for a long time to come.'

Funds raised from Alzheimer’s Society’s Coronavirus Appeal will help people affected by dementia who are in desperate need of support, through services such as Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Connect support line.

Alzheimer’s Society’s services have never been more needed, but the charity is facing a shortfall of up to £45 million in income. The charity’s support services have been a lifeline - used over 1.7 million times since lockdown began. More than 115,000 welfare calls have been made by frontline staff and Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Connect support line has been flooded with thousands of calls.

Helen Foster, Director of Operations at Alzheimer’s Society, said:

'A huge thank you to Arlene for brightening up Julie’s day. We are incredibly grateful for the support of Arlene to show how it’s possible to stay active during lockdown and the urgent need for our vital services. 

'Thousands are relying on us for information, support and help - our services are a lifeline, but we need to continue to reach as many people as possible, which is why our Coronavirus Appeal is so desperately needed.'

Watch Arlene and Julie’s zoom call here: https://youtu.be/fPez75hHMSA

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