Let’s Dance Activities visits communities all over the United States and in that we have seen so many different types of communities. Sometimes we visit mixed nursing care communities, adult daycares, assisted and even independent living communities. Most of the communities we visit have at least a portion that has a degenerative condition, that’s why they are in need of this extra care. They need someone to remind them to take care of themselves and to help be sure they stay in good health, one of those ways that comes up for most of us is “Are they having a high-quality life?” In that question, we must address their ability to connect, have fun, receive love, and to even take care of something else. Professionals already know that elderly lives are enhanced when they are offered the moment to take care of an animal, a plant, or to rock a baby. Care facilities go out of their way to see that these things happen, especially the activities director.
When Let’s Dance visits communities we notice something very special about most of these communities, no matter their socio-economical status, they are deeply a community. They know each other, even if they forgot their names. They hold the hands of each other as if to say “I am here with you.” Often cognitive residents in mixed communities will privately thank us for waking up one of their peers and getting them to engage. Simply because as a person that is aware of another person’s disconnect that happens with dementia, when they witness us bring them back to engage even if just for a few moments, they are joyous. You can see the joy on their faces as if we had shown them a whole new side to their friend. These more cognitive people are often struggling with more physical things like life in a wheelchair.
Recently, in a visit to a mixed community in Phoenix, AZ we had a very uplifting program with a group of individuals that were only alike in that they needed long term nursing care, and some people were even done with this need. The group was diverse and interested to see what the commotion was all about. There where certainly elderly folks with dementia, and several adults living in wheelchairs that are fully cognitive. We also had a paraplegic that was unable to communicate, along with other rather unique individuals. As the program unfolded Hollis approached the very young man that appears to be a paraplegic, although Hollis only deducts this by looking. There are no medical files shared as Hollis would rather not know any details and just approach slowly.
Hollis welcomes everyone into the circle, eye to eye and often shakes their hands. People with dementia are often very good at small talk and will often engage in this with confidence. Hollis uses their name, everyone is wearing a name tag. As Hollis greets each person they must assess if that person CAN shake their hand. So when approaching the very young paraplegic man, Christopher, Hollis moved slowly and noticed he was watching them. Hollis said gently, “Hey Christopher, Welcome, its good to see you here now. Thanks for being willing to come out.” Even though Hollis reached out their hand, Christopher did not. Hollis noticed that Christopher seemed to understand what Hollis said but to respond was impossible. Hollis just gently put their hand on his shoulder and continued around the circle. Meeting each person, eye to eye.
Eventually, the singing and dancing begin and Hollis ends up at Christopher, wanting to find a way to engage Christopher. Hollis knew that he could hear or feel something in the room but wasn’t sure he could engage physically. So Hollis invited him to dance with their words and an outreached hand…. the first time he didn’t respond. The second time, he reached out and took Hollis’ hand and immediately gave loving soft eyes to Hollis. Eyes can speak so deeply and hold many truths, and when Hollis has discovered such a softness within a person, it’s hard to resist revisiting throughout the program. Hollis finds themselves visiting, again and again, to simply hold the hand of Christopher, to engage him in connection. Hollis understands this need on a really deep level, as a lifetime caregiver for so many people in challenging situations.
Hollis knows many people in these places crave sensitive gentle touch because many of them, even though they might not communicate with words, are deeply emotional inside. A hug, a gentle hand-holding, a person next to you, someone listening and smiling with you. We all know we all need these things and in Let’s Dance, they get it! They get that feeling of being connected and they get that feeling of being loved. Hollis validates them, empowers them to move in their own ways, and to ‘express themselves’. In the end, Hollis tries to say Thank you, to everyone in attendance. Gratitude is a practice and in Let’s Dance, it’s essential. Hollis is often moved by what happens in this last gratitude and goodbye. After an hour some people cry, some people are smiling bigger than they have in years. Hollis validates each and every person with words, eye to eye, handshaking and sometimes hugs. Offering Christopher a goodbye hug, locking eyes with him again, sensing a hug was okay. Hollis continues through the entire circle and approaches a woman who said she was being discharged. As Hollis leans in to say goodbye to her she says, “Thank you, that was beautiful what you did with Christopher over there. THANK YOU!” and they stared into each other’s watery eyes and smiled, hugged and said goodbye.
In just an hour the entire group was connected, transformed, moved and lifted up. The music and the stories by BrightHawk, the vibrations of the handpan, all make it possible for Hollis to reach in because the music softens the entire group, it helps them relax. Hollis uses their education in nursing and a lifetime of experience as a caregiver to recognize what is needed in the moment. Hollis and Bright Hawk both adjust the program based on the group. Some groups like more singing while others like more dancing we try to discover that within the first 15 mins. This ability to adjust makes it so that a variety of communities can enjoy Let’s Dance.
Let’s Dance is visiting New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, and Oregon in December and on into 2020. If you’re in Colorado, we are looking at visiting your communities in April. Minnesota we will be there in June! Massachusetts and other eastern states look for us in May. If you want us to visit you in 2020, send us an email and let’s make it happen! We love new communities!