Dance Program Gives Creative Lift to Adult Daycare Clients

By McFadden, Susan | Aging Today, January/February 2003 | Go to article overview
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Dance Program Gives Creative Lift to Adult Daycare Clients

McFadden, Susan, Aging Today


When people dance, their physical movements express the images and emotions they experience when listening to music. For people with Alzheimer's and other dementias, dance offers a way to express creativity without words. The Luther Manor Dancers, a group of 18 participants at the Luther Manor Adult Day Care Center in Milwaukee, discovered the benefits of dance during a 16week period when they worked with a professional dancer-choreographer.

A few months ago, the Luther Manor Dancers presented three dances to family, friends and outer daycare center clients in a joyful display of coordinated movement and creative expression. The dance workshops and culminating performance demonstrated the power of art to bridge divisions so often imposed by society between cognitively intact and cognitively impaired people, between young and old, and between elders living independently in communities and those who need places like the adult daycare center.


At the dance performance, the curtain opened to reveal 18 older people sitting in two rows facing the audience. Seated facing them was Amy BrinkmanSustache, the choreographer who helped the daycare center dancers design the dances. Several volunteers and two staff members were also on stage. Repeating what they had done in each of their dance sessions in the previous months, the professionals warmly greeted each of the dancers.

In the first dance piece, the dancers moved in unison, using their hands, arms and facial expressions to express images they had earlier connected with the music during their many practice sessions. They showed grace, concentration and some rather complicated movements as they stretched to show how they'd greet the sun, feel the cool water of a woodland stream on a hot day, or celebrate the arcing of a rainbow. Some stood, and some sat, but all focused intently on Amy and her display of the movements they had choreographed together. For the last dance, the performers twirled scarves they had painted and moved exuberantly to Bobby McFerrin's song "Don't Worry, Be Happy." After each dance, the audience applauded enthusiastically, and the whole stage seemed to smile from ear to ear. When their part of the program ended, the dancers introduced themselves by saying their names and making a characteristic motion that each had developed as a gesture of individuality.

As the Luther Manor dancers left the stage, other groups of older dancers from the community who were not cognitively challenged took the stage. The Danceworks Tappers are four women in their Sos who had learned tap dancing from Brinkman-Sustache in classes at Milwaukee's Danceworks studio. They were followed by the InterActors, women ages 6o and older who perform throughout the Milwaukee area. In a dance created by WildSpace Dance Company choreographer Deb Loewen, these women demonstrated the powerful ways that bodies can convey images that arise from emotional responses to music. The show's finale treated everyone to a spirited display of ballroom dancing by Wayne Smith, a resident of Luther Manor, and his much younger dancing partner, Amy Shane.

The dance program is one example of Luther Manor's innovative approach to integrating art and artists into the care of people with dementia. In 1996, the center initiated a collaborative arts program with Very Special Arts of Wisconsin, an organization that promotes visual arts, music, dance, drama and creative writing for children and adults with disabilities.

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Dance Program Gives Creative Lift to Adult Daycare Clients


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