danceABILITIES offers workshops for clients with dementia and Alzheimer’s. In class, dancers are enabled to recall sequences of movements in artful and exciting ways, cued by music and by the support of their peers.
Using Sound: In dance class, I find it helps to use sounds to “cue” movements instead of just relying on memory. The different sounds tell us what moves are to be done. We require a percussionist, a piano player or recorded beats to create relevant sound-cues together.
Using One’s Senses: In dance class, I rely on right-brain or sensorimotor reminders (i.e.: story-telling or poetry) to help clients recall movement sequences. Research says that sensorimotor integration skills are developed during the period of growth from birth to about age 7. During these years, a child mainly senses things and then moves his or her body in relation to those sensations. His or her growth in all other mental and social functions will be based upon this foundation of sensory-motor integration. These same skills are built upon in dance class, at all ages.
Encouraging leadership: Leadership provides space for dancers to create spontaneous gestures instead of activating mirror-neurons (copying movement). From this place, we can co-create intelligent choreographies and we remember a dance together. In this process, we use language relevant to present-moment-experience (with less focus on anxiety and short-term memory loss).
AN EXAMPLE: During a student placement 16 years ago at the Sunnybrook Veterans facility in Toronto, Ontario I sang “Oh Canada” to a client. I was using music and movement with him from the knowledge passed down from my Great Aunt, dance therapist Leah Harpaz and from years of musical performance and choreography. By singing “Oh Canada” the client and I could build together a body of work to help him sit tall, to stand and to use his parallel bars to walk towards the Canadian flag. From the standing position, using parallel bars, I used fun, instructive phrases such as “To kick the ball, we have to stand tall… stand tall and kick the ball.” In this way, we could find simple joy in balance work, in weight shifting, and re-mastery of gross motor skills. Most importantly, since the client knew I was addressing him seriously an adult, walking towards the flag, he knew I was breaking down language into accessible ‘bite-sized’ pieces and commands that he could initiate.