Bringing Dance to Older Adults and People with Dementia

Published Friday, April 19, 2019

New Orleans JCC dance instructor, Kelly Harp Haber, believes in the power of movement. Whether she is teaching the J's tiniest dancers the basics of ballet or leading individuals living with Parkinson's disease in her weekly Dance for Parkinson's class, Kelly provides an uplifting environment for her students to express themselves.

Last week, Kelly had the opportunity to attend a training workshop at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, "Bringing Dance to Older Adults and People with Dementia." The workshop taught participants methods to engage, inspire, and uplift older adults and people with dementia through dance and expressive movement.

Kelly kept a travel journal during her trip and shared her reflections with us upon her return. We look forward to seeing how Kelly applies her learnings to our programming here in New Orleans. Read about Kelly's experience below. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

After working with older adults with dementia and Alzheimer’s for almost a decade, I have been diligently searching for training that would strengthen my toolkit for this community of dancers. In the fall, a friend of mine urged me to train with Donna Newman-Bluestein. I was thrilled to be able to attend her workshop “Bringing Dance to People with Dementia and Alzheimer’s” April 12-14 at the 92nd Street Y in New York.

Our co-hort for the workshop consisted of dance teachers, dance and movement therapists, nurses, and music therapists; a rich combination of people who have a sincere passion for bringing dance and movement to these special dancers.  Within minutes of the training, I knew I was in the right place to absorb and process expert information and new strategies from Donna.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Just taking a dance and movement class is taking a risk. The dancer is putting themselves on display emotionally, physically, and socially. We learned the importance of creating an emotionally safe and supportive environment. Only when we feel safe will we be able to learn and grow. Our team at the JCC Alzheimer’s Care and Enrichment Program (ACE) certainly models a culture of care that we learned is vital. The person-centered and relationship centered care that the ACE program provides establishes an environment where there can be “human flourishing.”

Today we worked intensely on class structure, music choices, and the use of props in dance class. The expertise from Donna was invaluable, but so was the input of the entire group. Everyone in our cohort had such rich experiences that we shared and learned from.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

On Sunday, we were excited to get back together to review the information, but we were most excited about traveling to the 80th Street Residence in New York, a memory care facility. We were able to participate in a full (close to 40 dancers) class with Donna. This experience was exhilarating. Love, joy, music, and movement filled the room; it was electric! No one wanted this feeling to end. What I do know is this: I honestly have no control over what is happening in their lives or minds before or after class. But, during class, that is what I can focus on. If for that one class, for that one hour, I can bring joy and movement to their lives, then I am doing my job. Maybe I can make that their most joyous time of the day. I certainly plan to.

I want to sincerely thank the JCC and the ACE program for believing that movement heals and that we all have a dancer inside of us. 

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