Sunday 17 September 2017

Illuminate Freedom: A Place for Health, Fitness and Fun


This blog post is about my experience at a free taster dance class for visually impaired people. Illuminate Freedom is an organisation that provides a variety of gentle movement, health, fitness and dance programmes for visually impaired people. The activities increase body awareness, confidence, balance and participate in accessible classes. They use audio description and careful pacing to make the tasks creative, lively and most importantly easy to follow. 
IMAGE DESCRIPTION: The Illuminating Freedom logo and name in purple and blue with the words "Brighten life's journey" in purple  at the bottom (source).

How I Found Out About It:
During the summer I applied for an administrative internship position at Illuminate Freedom. When researching more about the company I found out about the classes, I watched some of the videos on their Facebook and read some reviews. I had an interview for the internship position. Although I didn't get the role, I developed a curiosity in VI dance classes as a form of exercise for myself. So I sent a message on their Twitter asking for further information about classes, location, prices and other details. After reading the information and thinking about it some more- these questions came to mind: Is it a good idea to do this group activity? Will I be able to do it properly? Eventually I decided to join a taster class for Visually impaired Zumba and Contemporary Dance. 

VI Zumba:

Is an audio-described Latin inspired dance workout, that can be a gentle yet energising activity. It helps visually impaired people of all ages and abilities improve their health, loose weight, strengthen their muscles and have fun. During my taster class I learnt that "audio description" meant the instructor would describe each action slowly step by step without music. You practise the steps a few times without music so you get the hang of it. Then music would be turned on and we would do the steps to the sound of the music. Some people did the steps sitting down, others standing up. You get to do what you're comfortable with and what's best for your disability. Each dance move could be done standing up, or sitting down. Both were clearly described by the instructor. There were moments where you would take a break to drink water, rest, do some freestyle to feel the music and repeat. Everything is done at your own pace. In the past I've done Karate, boxing and general P.E. classes which I didn't enjoy since I couldn't keep up with everyone else, or follow the instructions properly. There have been moments where teachers have called my name, explaining what I'm doing wrong and what to do. Sometimes I'd get the gist of what they meant. Other times they would repeat the instructions a number of times and I'd pretend I understood them. Why? Because I felt as if I was holding the class back, delaying the fun for them and everything had to be rushed. It made group fitness classes and P.E. uncomfortable.  What I liked about these VI classes was that although the movements were easy to understand; if you were having trouble following them, an instructor would come up to you face-to-face level and take you through the steps, with a few tips on making the movement easier for yourself. To me this meant I felt included and not like a burden to everyone else, holding them back.

Lunch Club: 

On Wednesday after the Zumba class the group would go and have lunch at St Luke's community centre. Which was a 2 minute walk from the leisure centre and had a cafe and canteen where you can get hot food. We walked there as a group with an instructor at the front and rear, guiding everyone and making sure nobody was lagging behind.  The staff we're really friendly and helpful. Some of us ordered food from the cafe, queueing up and paying. We'd then walk back to our table at the canteen place (a larger area with more places to sit and eat) and the employers would bring the food to our table. Below are pictures of the scrambled eggs on toast and berry sponge cake with custard that I had for lunch.

IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Grey plate with a knife and fork on the right and scrambled eggs on toasted brown bread with herbs on top. A brown napkin and black water bottler are near the plate on the top left and middle.

IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A small white bowl with a berry sponge cake and custard on top. A black water bottle is next to it on the top left and my cane tip on the top right. 

VI Contemporary:
Is a audio described creative class that enables you to explore different ways of moving your body and confidence when moving around the place. This type of exercise is a great way to gently stretch, strengthen your muscles, improve your posture and helps with muscle pain and tension. The class started off  with everyone in a circle where we did an exercise with our eyes closed holding hands & had to do actions around the circle. Fir example, squeezing your left hand and shaking your arm. Following this was a sensory water exercise where we moved our arms, steadied our breathing and carried out an task in pairs. Here one person closed their eyes and positioned themselves like a "tree and the other person touched them to get a reaction, such as a movement.  Personally I found it quite strange and my reactions were more conscious compared to other people. I could tell I was being touched & thought I had to do something, move a bit as a response. Everyone had a different reaction to this experience, but if you felt uneasy being touched you didn't have to do the exercise. There were other tasks you could do in the meantime. After that we did some stretches with our legs by lying down on our mats and more standing up.   Again instructors would come up close to you if you aren't doing it right and help you. For some of the stretches I could feel it. However during one particular stretch where you're supposed to feel it in your spine, I couldn't feel it. Louise (the founder and an instructor at Illuminate Freedom) said this meant I'm quite flexible. I  just need to work on my balance and alignment.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to keep going to the classes every Wednesday because things kept coming up. Overall I really enjoyed the classes and if I have the time I would definitely go back in the future. I learnt a lot and I think I would benefit in the long run. If I remember correctly VI Zumba and Contemporary are £6 each every week. For more information on current classes and new locations where classes are being held in London, check out their Facebook and Twitter to find out more!

Thank you to everyone at Illuminate Freedom for this wonderful experience.