Come Dance With Me
Recall old steps from memory, choose to create new ones, no matter, there is no wrong way, only your way. Designed to engage people living with dementia, these dance events offer lots of fun, exercise and joyful expression through movement. We have seen some inspiring results both in increased sociability, sustained friendships, moments of fun and truly inspiring creativity, and exciting, heart warming improvements in cognitive function. This is most obvious in the domains of communication, increased ability to focus, pay attention, concentrate and stay in the moment, orientation to time place and person and a very rewarding decrease in periods of anxiety. For me (Beverley Giles OAM), as coordinator, possibly best of all, is the strength of the friendships developed and the wonderful way participants support each other through down times and boost each person ‘s self esteem as they achieve milestones together.
Although the class is set up for people living with dementia, each person is there as a dancer not a sufferer, or any such label. The class has been going for nearly four years and a great time is had by all. Partners are welcome and morning tea is an acknowledged highlight. The class is held on Tuesday Morning for six weeks at a time, with a one week break between each six week block. The current round began on 15th January, 2019 and will run until 19th February then break for one week and begin again on 5th March until 9th April, no class for one week then begin the 6 week cycle again for the duration of the year. Come Dance With Me is held at Dementia Friendly Metro Community Hub, 22 Qualtrough Street, Wooloongabba from 10 .30 am to 12.30 pm. The management and staff there have always been very supportive of our group. When Dementia Australia decided it would no longer fund the class, they immediately stepped up to give us use of the hall free, plus funding for morning tea,. With their support we have gone from strength to strength ever since. Now with Lizzie Vilmanis as our teacher, it’s full steam head, Yay! for us.
Lizzie, dancer extraordinaire, is one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. She started with us on Tuesday 22nd January, 2019. After just two classes, I can’t tell you how much joy there is in watching how she listens, responds, enjoys, all the interactions she has with each unique individual in the group and their partners. Whoopee! At last, our dancers have a person to teach who “gets it”, who perceives and delights in the wonderful uniqueness of each person in the group.
Dementia is not a psychiatric condition. It is a group of signs and symptoms demonstrating extensive brain damage. There are familiar patterns, but the syndrome affects each person differently. We are born with 100, billion brain cells. One of those can make up to 10,000 connections. We go on growing new cells and making new connections for all of our lives, Even when a person is affected by dementia, he or she goes on making new cells and can make new connections but only if there is a need. Use it or lose it is true. As is use it and grow some more. Many people who are living with dementia have much to contribute, to general understanding but nobody is in a position to represent another person’s needs and particularly her or his feelings.
It only took Lizzie one class, less really, to grasp this and to rejoice in the potential such riches in individual life experience will bring to what she can create for future classes. Our second class was quite different to the first. I have no doubt Lizzie has gone away and is putting together a class for next Tuesday which is even more focussed on what she has learned of what our dancers can do, want to do and don’t yet know is available to learn and do.
At last, we have a teacher with the attitude, skills and knowledge to ensure optimal movement, creativity, reminiscence, excitement, fun and joy for everyone. Dementia on its own does not stop a person from enjoying life and continuing to share their gifts with others. It is the lack of knowledge and understanding from others which is the root of most of the difficulties experienced by a person living with it. Barriers are placed in the way of her or him achieving their potential, in spite of the syndrome. If one was to do a skills and abilities audit ,of the people attending Come Dance With Me classes (over the more than 4 years since our inception), the sum total from individuals in this group, would outclass any other I can think of. Who knows what the future holds, all I know, without a doubt, after watching her in action, Lizzie will ensure each dancer feels really important and very confident the class is about her or him and their friends having a fabulous time every week. Who knows what our Come Dance With Me dancers will be able to achieve, enjoy and generally look forward to but it will be fantastic. Watch this space.
Below, a photograph of Lizzie with Brian Lucas when they performed together, last year in Natalie Weir’s Everyday Requiem. And, Lizzie in rehearsal for that role. She infused the sensitive role with such emotional power, I reckon there was not a dry eye in the house. That capacity for empathy is essential to this teaching role and Lizzie has it in bucketfuls.
When Lizzie said yes to teach our class my heart leapt for joy. Her enthusiasm for the role was such a delight and she is brimming over with ideas to ensure fun and achievement. Joyful times. At last this class has a teacher with ALL the gifts I know will give them the opportunities they deserve.
Freed from the role of leading the class, I anticipate wonderful times ahead. I am not a dance teacher, but I am a workshop facilitator with considerable experience and capacity for play, something some dance teachers (not Lizzie) don’t understand is very important for people with dementia. The brain loves play and laughter does great things. Now I can go back to using my recognised skills. As a volunteer Dementia Consultant and Educator, my role is to do what I can to ensure dementia has the least affect possible on the capacity of those living with it, to engage and enjoy the class Lizzie creates for them. .
WaW Dance dancers continue to support the class. Volunteer Robyn Holdway has been with us from the start. Whilst she is in Canada, another WaW Dancer Judy Macsporran, has stepped up. Olivia and Betty are regular volunteers. They do a fantastic job assisting across the board and especially to encourage engagement and participation. The class is a joyful, fun filled and failure free social gathering for people affected by dementia and their friends. We are all dancers, together.