Red Clay Dance Company (RCDC), a nonprofit dance company that creates and performs a diverse repertoire of Afro-contemporary dance, is stepping up in the fight against the threat of COVID-19 in its community with the Dance Pamoja Challenge, a 12-month project beginning June 1 that focuses on controlling blood pressure, building resilience, and preventing death from COVID-19 among African-American families living on Chicago’s South Side.
RCDC shifted to providing its program participants with virtual dance classes with the implementation and extension of stay-at-home orders. With the new Dance Pamoja Challenge, RCDC is working with Dr. Audrey Tanksley of ACCESS Community Health Network and Clinical Pharmacist Jewel Younge of University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy to target blood pressure management, A1C monitoring, and psychological stress to reduce or eliminate the burden of COVID-19 and the risk of death. With healthcare guidelines recommending 150 minutes of exercise a week, RCDC’s dance classes have the potential to preserve and improve blood pressure and blood glucose levels.
“Red Clay Dance has performed professionally and provided dance instruction for thousands of Chicagoans in our home-base community on the South Side,” said RCDC Founding Artistic Director and CEO Vershawn Sanders-Ward. “Engaging people in exercise can be very challenging, but high-energy and aerobic styles of dance are deeply rooted in the African-American tradition. The motivation to dance is not just practical; there are spiritual, cultural, and psychological components that make dancing central in African-American homes, churches, and social settings. In short, we love to dance pamoja, which means together in Swahili. This project speaks directly to RCDC’s work during the past 11years to strengthen the resiliency of our communities through dancing pamoja!”
Participants in RCDC’s online classes are also eligible to participate in a 12-month observational cohort study. Participants receive a blood pressure monitor to log their numbers and team up to lower and maintain their blood pressure. Dr. Tanksley closes the care continuum loop through protocol-driven monitoring, escalating, and referring participants to testing, or a doctor, when necessary. The program approaches resilience-building through strategies such as counting blessings, creating a resilience inventory to reinforce the supports people need to navigate the pandemic. Dance Pamoja Challenge prizes support the goals of lowering blood pressure, increasing activity, and building resilience. The Resilience Portal provides participants with a group blog to share their expression and learn more about COVID-19 resources, mental wellness exercises, and immune-boosting nutrition.
“Dance is a great form of exercise to include in anyone’s health management program,” stated Sanders-Ward. “Now, in particular, RCDC is offering an alternative to face-to-face classes, which helps people keep movement in their lives while avoiding the risk of infection.”
The Dance Pamoja Challenge will culminate in 2021 with an in-person Dance Pamoja Celebration hosted by RCDC and the project partners. This event will celebrate the participants and encourage them to continue their healthy lifestyle journey, as well as potentially attract other individuals in the community seeking to live healthier and more active lives. Participants will have access to free dance classes, healthy snacks, food prep demonstrations, blood pressure screening, and testing.
For more information about RCDC, visit redclaydance.com.