The most Frequently Asked question at Let’s Dance must be “What is the name of that instrument?” Activity directors are delighted when suddenly, residents that are not normally interested in programs, are stopping in to hear the music. The instrument is uniquely made and is one of the first evolutions of the handpan, known as a Hang PanArt. Today there are tons of varieties of handpans and they are becoming more popular all the time. Universally, we notice that most people feel that handpans have a special vibration and sound. We all notice in ourselves that it reduces stress so none of us are surprised to hear it reduces stress in those that might not be able to vocalize what their experiencing. Let’s Dance has began to ask several questions regarding our work with dementia. First, the fact that people with dementia have a great time even though they are NOT familiar with the music. This is a phenomenon we are fascinated with because often if you put on modern music, people with dementia are not interested until its something they recognize like Johnny Cash. Yet we know that if Bright Hawk just begins to play the instrument quietly while activity directors bring residents into the special set up and help them get their name tags on, that everyone will settle in with curiosity and a general sense of peace.
Another Phenomenon that has become obvious is that harder to reach individuals are eventually soothed from their deep resistance to movement to a sudden boogie, stretch or jitter bug with Hollis. There is often a contracting that happens to people in later stage dementia yet after listening to the handpan, the positive vibes around them with everyone dancing and then the gentle engagement of Hollis later stage residents are smiling, opening their eyes, stretching their arms and even following Hollis’ instruction. Often activities directors are delighted to see these individuals awakened.
Another amazing part of this instrument is how it actually has a real vibration, other than its sound. A story to help you understand comes from a community in New Jersey. A mixed elderly community with people living with dementia, cognitive people living in wheelchairs and independent folks recovering from surgery. A long term care facility with a rehabilitation facility attached and they had us playing in their courtyard. We were grateful to offer the community outside. Bright Hawk got started and as the activity director brought one last resident into the circle she leaned in to ask Hollis, “What do you think about a deaf person? She can’t hear the music, can we engage her some other way?” Hollis grew up with a blind father and has been exposed to many people without hearing. Hollis looked at her and smiled, “Yes of course, bring her out, I am sure she will enjoy it!”
As Hollis made their first pass around the circle they seen the activity director bring her out. The look on her face was enough to tell anyone she suddenly was having an experience. As Hollis approached her, saying hello in sign language and wondering if the resident knew any sign language? The resident was begining to tear up as Hollis leaned in and she said in her best voice, “I can HEAR that!” then she made noises as if she was thinking and added “I can feel it in a different way, I can HEAR it.” Hollis recognized that this concept may be hard for her to fully understand, but knew that people that couldn’t hear could sometimes feel certain instruments. Some vibrations they could ‘hear’ in a different way, even ‘feel’ in a different way. The woman was clearly moved and Hollis continued to engage the group. Dancing the jitter bug with a woman of 106yo on her birthday and a woman that had flown a plane just earlier that day at 101yo. Connecting the whole group because now at their more relaxed state, it was easier for them to have fun.
As the event came to a close Hollis would visit everyone, saying Thank you. Hollis using sign language again with her as a sign of gratitude for her staying for the program and being a participant, dancing and following Hollis’ lead in movement. As Hollis used sign language to say ‘Thank you’ she grabbed Hollis hand and pulled them in close and said, “Thank YOU! I seen what you did for the whole group! THANK YOU!” and she kissed Hollis’ hand, smiled and waved down Bright Hawk. Pulling Bright Hawk down to her level in the wheelchair she glared into her eyes and said, “Thank you! I could HEAR that instrument, THANK YOU!” and her eyes began to tear with the reconnection to music. A heart to heart connection, eye to eye with an instrument she had never seen. Bright Hawk granted her a moment to touch the instrument and they both smiled with gratitude at each other and the instrument itself.
Let’s Dance would love to offer more information to the world regarding these very special instruments, live music, and dementia. We have also noticed that people in comas, people harder to reach, people that are contracted or ‘gone’ can find their way back with this very special instrument. We know that when paired with a sensitive gentle positive approach of a caregiver, we are all lifted up with the magic that happens. Let’s Dance would love to participate in research or a deeper understanding of this phenomenon. We encourage you to connect us with anyone that might be interested in hearing more about our experiences.
If you want us to visit YOUR community, please send us a message and will do what we need to do to visit you! You can see our public schedule, we like to keep it 6+ months out. Simply fill out the form below the schedule and we will get back to you ASAP to confirm our upcoming visit. Read our newsletter to be sure you get notifications when we are coming to your area. This December, January and February we will be visiting communities in Oregon, anywhere in the state please contact us to arrange a visit! Then in February and March we will be visiting California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and we will make our way to Colorado in early April 2020. We are sure we are in Minnesota in June, Massachusetts before and after Memorial Day and Ohio after the 4th of July. If your in between, please contact us our about our route and we are happy to stop at your community, too!