The Body can be a Source of Creativity, Imagination, and Fun while Living with Dementia.
Here's to moving with the music. A sometimes unrecognized source of creativity, imagination, sociability, spirituality, and fun is dance. It is no accident that dance therapy plays an important role in care for people diagnosed with dementia. Canada's National Ballet School has created a short film showing the power of dance in this context, called "Dancer not Dementia." You can find it below. If you are influenced by process theology, I also offer a process commentary, drawing upon Whitehead's notion of "the withness of the body" and "experience in the mode of causal efficacy." Bottom line? The Spirit in whose life our lives unfold loves us all, and moves with us, too, and we with it. When our movements are filled with joy and delight, the moods are shared by the heart of the universe, who likewise enjoys experience in the mode of causal efficacy. We are God's body.
The Body as a Source of Intelligibility, Inventiveness, and Creativity in Everyday Life
The instrumental reduction of dance to its application as a therapeutic tool with quantifiable outcomes, and the related neglect of first-person experiential perspectives (Hill, 2016), can be traced to the contemporary movement toward cognitive science with an emphasis on embodied cognition (Batson et al., 2012; Warburton, 2011). A key tenet of embodied cognition is that mental processes are stimulated with movement (Batson et al., 2012). A limitation of this theory is that the emphasis on cognitive and neural processes has effectively elided how the body itself could be a source of intelligibility, inventiveness, and creativity in everyday life, imbued with a life force that has its own intentionality (Kontos & Grigorovich, 2018).
Sentient and tacit forms of knowledge and expression are central to human existence and are uniquely supported in dance, yet dance continues to be adopted for instrumental purposes for individuals living with dementia. This has not only impoverished understandings of dance but perpetuates the restriction of dance in dementia care to its application as a therapeutic. There is thus a pressing need to give greater prominence to understanding the ways that dance increases social inclusion by supporting embodied self-expression, creativity, and social engagement of persons living with dementia.
We identified 2 themes: playfulness and sociability. Playfulness refers to the ways that the participants let go of what is “real” and became immersed in the narrative of a particular dance, often adding their own style. Sociability captures the ways in which the narrative approach of the Sharing Dance Seniors program encourages connectivity/intersubjectivity between participants and their community; participants co-constructed and collaboratively animated the narrative of the dances.
Our findings highlight the playful and imaginative nature of how persons living with dementia engage with dance and demonstrate how this has the potential to challenge the stigma associated with dementia and support social inclusion. This underscores the urgent need to make dance programs such as Sharing Dance Seniors more widely accessible to persons living with dementia everywhere."
* Pia Kontos, Alisa Grigorovich, An Kosurko, Rachel J Bar, Rachel V Herron, Verena H Menec, Mark W Skinner, Dancing With Dementia: Exploring the Embodied Dimensions of Creativity and Social Engagement, The Gerontologist, Volume 61, Issue 5, August 2021, Pages 714–723, https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/gnaa129
Dance Therapy Practices
Select music that resonates with each individual, evoking memories and stirring deep emotions.
Encourage a range of movements, from gentle swaying to lively spins, adapting to each participant's mobility and comfort level.
Foster an inclusive environment where individuals, regardless of their cognitive abilities, feel embraced and empowered to join in.
Cultivate a sense of togetherness within the group, enriching the communal experience and nurturing a feeling of belonging.
Incorporate creative props such as scarves or colorful ribbons, adding a sensory dimension to the dancing and allowing participants to express themselves more openly.
Guide participants through structured dance routines, enabling them to follow along and experience a sense of achievement as they move harmoniously with others.
Provide emotional support to those who may become overwhelmed during the sessions, prioritizing the well-being of each participant.
Withness of the Body
Spirituality and Practice offers an "alphabet of spiritual literacy" that helps people identify the feelings, moods, and qualities of heart associated with spiritual vitality or aliveness. Examples are A for attention, B for beauty, C for connection with others, D for devotion, E for enthusiasm, F for faith, G for gratitude, H for hospitality, I for imagination, J for justice, K for kindness, L for listening, M for meaning, N for nurturing, O for openness, P for play, Q for questing, R for reverence, S for silence, T for teaching, U for unity, V for vision, W for wonder, X for a sense of mystery, Y for "you" or self-respect, and Z for zest for life.
When these qualities emerge in a person's life in healing ways, they touch and are touched by the spiritual side of life. The various letters in the alphabet, representing feelings and moods, can either be momentary or enduring, signifying states or traits. They can rise up in very young children, including infants, and in elderly people, including those diagnosed with dementia. This rising can occur spontaneously and in unplanned ways, but it can also emerge intentionally through, among other means, music, dance, and the arts.
Dance is especially effective because it builds upon the first language we ever learn in human life: that of movement. This makes sense to those of us influenced by process philosophy and theology. We believe that every moment of human life, even when we are sleeping, begins with what we call "experience in the mode of causal efficacy," the primary instance of which lies in receiving influences from our bodies. The philosopher Whitehead speaks of this as "the withness of the body."
This withness includes not only what we receive from our bodies but also how we move in and with our bodies, voluntarily and involuntarily. Breathing, for example, is a form of involuntary movement, as is clapping the hands and tapping the feet is a form of voluntary movement. Both are processes, activities, modes of becoming.
Process philosophers add that when people are moving in ways that are enlivening and whole-making, even for a moment, they are making contact with the deep reality in which the universe unfolds: the Spirit itself. They are touching and being touched by God. It does not matter that they may not have the language to articulate this. The medium is the message, and the body is the medium.