Tools for Health: An Experience by Rhiannon Perley-Waugh

Editor’s Note: During Dance Exchange’s time here in March, they facilitated a Tools for Health Training workshop over a weekend. Here is a post by a familiar face of the GeriActors and Friends Rhiannon Perley-Waugh.

     When I received the email newsletter from the GeriActors about the Tools for Health Training workshop I was incredibly excited. Since graduation, I have been interested in pursuing a masters in Drama Therapy at Concordia University in Montreal. As such, when I saw that the workshop would be providing information on how the arts can be used as therapy, I knew it was something I needed to take. Before the workshop I knew very little about Dance Exchange – as a company – and thus went into the workshop naive as regards the kind of work they do. I was certainly expecting to expand my knowledge of the art therapyfield, but beyond that wasnt quite sure what to expect. Would we be sitting, reading power-points all weekend? Would we be watching health education videos? Who knew! Well. Little did I know I was in for an absolute intellectual and personal growth adventure! There were no powerpoints. No videos. Just pure movement and interpersonal engagement.

     The workshop with Dance Exchange was interactive and engaging from 9:30 in the morning March 14 to the drive home from St. Albert on Sunday March 15. The company took the workshop participants through many exercises such as mirroring – where you are in pairs and one person leads movement and the other must mirror that leader. Perhaps one my favourite moments on the Saturday portion of the workshop was carrying out the build a phraseexercise. We started with a simple prompt – These hands have held, wrote a response to that prompt, then shared with the group what we had written. It was through this sharing the building began. We learned that there were 4 ways to pick out/develop movement from spoken words/text: images, spontaneous gestures, action words and clear details. Thus, we created movement gestures out of moments where these 4 things were presented in our sharing of These hands have held. Then as smaller groups, we continued the exercise and created a dance piece. The next step of this exercise was to apply nuance to the initial creations – building on moments of connection, thinking about spatial formation, levels, tempo or individual vs. group moments. The end performances be each group were truly magical. They were moving stories, being told from the heart of each individual and then, simultaneously, the group.

     That afternoon, we broke down the format of the workshop as it had happened in the morning – which I found extremely helpful in grounding all the work we had done and seeing how it could be carried forward in a therapeutic/clinical context.

     My perhaps favourite part of this workshop was our Sunday visit to the River Ridge senior home in St. Albert. It was our chance to apply what wed learned in real-time and apply to a context of older adults who had varying physical and mental from ourselves. From the moment we arrived there was excitement in the air on both accounts, the seniors and us workshop-folk alike. Seeing how the workshop engaged with seniors and brought smiles to their faces was the most heartwarming experience I had had in quite a long time. I worked one on one with some seniors and at the end was the leader of a small group- building a dance, just as we had in the previous days workshop. We laughed, we played, we spoke, we moved – we created a dance. By the end of our experience there, my heart was bursting with delight and I was touched beyond words at the healingthat had happened, not just with the seniors, but to myself.

     Needless to say, this experience inspired me incredibly. I have therefore decided to begin applying for positions as recreational or life enrichment staff in seniors homes around the city. I would love to bring my knowledge from this workshop (both the exercises themselves, and also how to build an effective workshop) as well as my background in theatre into more lives and start to gain more experience working in geriatric contexts and/or homes. Furthermore, my experience in this workshop has increased my desire to fulfill the long-term goal I had at the onset of pursuing Drama Therapy in Montreal. I have nothing but thanks for Dance Exchange, and the GeriActors for providing me with this experience!


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