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The Healing Power of Dance
June 3, 2015
The Healing Power of Dance
Posted by Jon Federman

Parkinson's dance uses the healing power of movement to encourage a healthy life“Music is primal,” explains Art Sullivan, resident dance instructor at JF&CS. “It is the last memory there when all the others are gone. It resides in the same part of the brain as our primal fears. It triggers memories residing deep within the core of the brain.”

When music is combined with physical movement in the form of dance, studies have shown that it can have a positive, healthy effect on humans. Starting with the premise that the body, mind, and spirit are interconnected, dance can be an effective healing technique for people with developmental, medical, social, physical, and psychological impairments. It uses the body’s movement as a door to mental and physical well-being.

Art sets movement to music specifically selected depending on the make-up of his classes. “If I’m leading the elderly, I use music from the Great American Songbook because it is familiar to them and brings back happy memories. Similarly, if Alzheimer’s patients are involved, music from their youth can bring a very favorable response,” he adds.

A recent study led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that certain human experiences like dancing can actually turn on genes that facilitate growth in the human brain and can actually stop or slow the production of “amyloid plaques” (the significant factor of Alzheimer’s disease ) in the brain.

Dance has been shown to help other populations, as well. For children with autism spectrum disorders, it can build new motor, behavior, and communication skills. It has also shown great success with people suffering from addiction, substance abuse, eating disorders, and depression and can help those recovering from psychological trauma who may have difficulty verbalizing their feelings.

Even people with chronic illnesses and immunosuppressed people can benefit from dance. The “Lebed Method” is a movement program designed by doctors to promote drainage of the lymphatic system and increase range of motion -- problems often faced by those who have undergone treatment and surgery for breast cancer.

Art Sullivan is trained in the Lebed Method and is currently developing a way to incorporate some of these dance techniques into his work with people with Parkinson’s disease. He also offers a class for seniors who have fallen and broken bones. “They’re afraid of moving because of mental trauma. I get them to do simple, slow movements to music, starting from a seated position. We stretch and then we coordinate opposite movements. I try to get them to visualize their movements in their own homes and to be less dependent on mobility devices, canes, and walkers,” he explains. “In time, they conquer their fears.”

“What I do is not about a performance,” adds Art. “I’m not looking for them to be perfect. I want to bring them out of isolation, whether it’s at JF&CS or at a nursing home. I see people from different backgrounds come together and continue to socialize after class. Aside from the therapeutic benefits, it’s just fun for them – they don’t even realize that it’s exercise.”

Please contact Art Sullivan at asullivan@jfcsboston.org for more information.

Jon FedermanJon Federman is the JF&CS Staff Writer. A practicing attorney for more than 15 years, he is thrilled to bring his legal and persuasive writing skills to the JF&CS Marketing Communications department. Jon has a BA from Tufts University and a JD from Boston College Law School. In his spare time he is an exhibiting photographer and an award-winning cartoonist. Jon lived in London, England for five years before returning to Boston in 2011.
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