What if you knew that dancing and providing embodied care to people with dementia would bring YOU amazing gifts?
How would life be different if the story you heard was that dancing with people with dementia was a joyous, uplifting experience for all, rather than the depressing narrative of suffering you usually hear? What if you knew that the gifts you received would far outweigh any energy exerted?
That is my experience, and that of my colleagues, Dr. Richard Coaten in the UK, and Dr. Heather Hill and Maeve Larkin in Australia. I think I can venture to say that is also the experience of my fellow panelists, in addition to Richard Coaten, at the American Dance Therapy Association’s International Panel at the November 2017 conference: Job Cornelissen of the Netherlands, Devika Mehta of India, Jan McConnell of New Zealand, Rainbow Ho of Hong Kong, and Tanya Lazuk of Canada.
The longer I work with this population (over 20 years), the more joy I access which I attribute to what I learn from people who experience memory and cognitive losses – which is that if I am in the moment, we connect more easily, and are able to uplift one another. I am continually surprised and delighted with their offerings during a dance/movement therapy group. In one group this past week, one well-dressed woman whose language is often garbled, when handed a poly fluff snowball to throw at one another, began flattening and making a hole in her fluff instead. She put it under her nose and around her mouth, creating a Santa-like mustache and beard. She was not limited by my instructions, but rather inspired to follow her own nose, as it were, bringing laughter to the rest of the group.
Working with people with dementia seems to me a wonderful way to practice Buddhist principles, from my perspective; full disclosure – I am educated to these principles only through the Zeitgeist. It seems that so much these days is about people trying to achieve Mindfulness or a more mindful, aware, way of being. Bringing dance to people with dementia helps us develop/strengthen that mindfulness, having “beginner’s mind”, and especially “non-attachment to outcome”.
Sadly, this source of joy is kept secret by those who prefer that we see only the suffering of people with dementia and their caregivers. Why? Because whole industries, like the pharmaceutical one, make loads of money from that narrative. And also, because many people in the western world (maybe the whole world) are terrified of “losing their minds”.
I am not afraid of losing my mind. Here’s what I am afraid of.
I am so very grateful to my friend and colleague, Dr. Meg Chang who encouraged me — yes, even pushed me — to write this manual so that I could teach people to become a more attuned caregivers. Purchase your copy of the manual, The Dance of Interaction: An Embodied Approach to Nonverbal Communication Training for Caregivers of People with Dementia here.