3 core concepts that work.
1: Meaningful Movements
Every dance has a rhythm, every rhythm has a movement, and every movement has a purpose. Rhythm, movement and purpose are interconnected. Exercise may be beneficial but it is seldom meaningful. The interconnectedness in sitdance becomes a motivation for participation.
Exercises may be four of this and four that movement, making it more an exercise in counting. Music may be added but there is often no connection with the movements other than the music provides a tempo. Instructors are often still counting out loud over the music. In sitdance one can do away with instructions after a while once one has become familiar with the music as the music supports the movements.
The movements are done to specific music that has a tempo and a melody. Melodies resonate with our emotions. Behind the emotions are stories that mean something to us. This meaning, be it conscious or subconscious, enables one to relate the movements to o ones lives, to ones lived experiences, to ones personal and common stories. When this happens a dance emerges.
Feedback from participants such as “I like this dance”, I feel really pretty when I do this dance”, or I remember doing such and such”, are all indicators that the dance connected with the participants.
In the DVDs I say "I will do the dances as good as I can", and "I will be giving my 100%". In return I expect participants to do it as good as they can, and give their 100% no matter how little that may be. This means that I encourage and challenge them, but at the same time I accept any form or level of participation. 100% participation is a core concept of sitdance. Not understanding this concept can raise doubt about the benefits of sitdance. The following story taught me a lot about 100% participation and the benefits this programme
The two second smile.
One week a man in a wheelchair was brought into the activities room for a sitdance session. He sat slumped in his wheelchair, with his head resting on his chest. As far as I could see he never moved a muscle. He looked seemingly unresponsive. I wondered how he benefitted from the programme if at all. A moment later I could stop wondering.
With great difficulty he raised his head from his chest. He managed to raise it just high enough so our eyes could meet. He succeeded in holding his head up for two seconds, just long to give me the biggest possible smile. Then his head dropped back on his chest where it stayed for the rest of the session.
That two-second smile taught me a lot. This man really enjoyed the session, even though he was physically unable to move his body. He was unable to talk so I can only speculate why he enjoyed sitdance so much. Maybe he liked the music (participating emotionally). Maybe he enjoyed being with other people having fun (participating socially). Maybe he was visualizing himself sitdancing ,or in other words, dancing in his mind’s eye (participating mentally). Maybe he enjoyed remembering times when he could dance (participating mentally).
What I can say for sure is that he was enjoying the session and thus participating. I had to accept that being present meant 100% participation for this man. After that session I never doubted if anyone present was benefitting. That is why it is so important to get residents in the room, even if they don’t want to participate and ‘just watch’.
In the welcome video I state that I will be giving my 100%, that I will do the dances as good as I can, and that I expect the participants to do it as good as they can. Indeed, I expect participants to give their 100%. This means that I encourage and accept any form or level of participation.
Remember staff and volunteers that you are rolemodels and that participants will look to you for guidance, so give it as much as you can.
For some people this means doing it just like me
For some people this means tapping along with their toes or fingers
For some people this means being present in the room
For some people this means listening to the music
Any level of participation is OK as long as it is a person’s 100% participation.
Concept 3: Creative Adaptations
The DVD attempts to suit as many participants as possible, but one size never fit all. Each person brings along a unique set of conditions. Ignore them and they will use their condition to remain passive. But, meet an individual’s needs by developing a creative adaptation of a dance and is will be very likely that they will surrender their resistance and participate rate in the sitdance.
I discovered early on that when I created a unique creative adaptation of the dance for an inactive participant, they surrendered their resistance and participated. Time and time again this worked, no matter what the nature of the conditions was. It makes the participant feel heard, giving them a sense that they count, and that you care about their participation.
Conditions that prevent elderly from joining in can be physical, emotional, mental, psychological and even spiritual. The condition has the key to creative adaptation solution. Look closely at the condition at hand as it will contain cues on what the adaptation for an original sitdance could be. This will make the task of finding a creative solution less demanding. An analysis of the essence of a dance will also inform what a possible adaptation could look like.
One of the simplest forms of creative adaptations is simplifying the sitdance. This is particularly easy if a dance has more than one part or versions such as the Irish Hand Jig. The ‘beginners’ version is in fact part 1 all the way through. In the advanced version part one and 2 are alternated. The more changes and variations, the more the participants will experience the sitdance as ‘difficult’. Certain conditions, such as strokes, will always require creative adaptations for any original sitdance.