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Disaster Dancing

Reading and watching the news these days can make dancing seem a little irrelevant. What is the point of a perfect plie when our neighbors in Puerto Rico have no water? But this is exactly the time when art, expression, and physical activity are the most important. How are we to take care of our neighbors if we have not taken care of ourselves and have nothing to give? How can we give a shoulder to cry on if we haven’t strengthened our shoulders? What better way to make others aware of our neighbors’ needs than through art? Dance is unique in that it is activity and art, exercise and expression, sport and statement. While this article specifically addresses the recent hurricanes in our community, these suggestions can also be applicable to any trauma such as injury, loss, and life events.

Teachers and studio owners after a disaster have the responsibility to take care of their students while also having the added stress of ensuring the studio is safe, has electricity, and students are physically able to return. Similarly, parents are working to return their children’s lives to a level of normalcy while potentially contending with home damage, work disruption, and limited basic essentials. While creating a safe physical environment, there is a need to create a welcoming and healing emotional environment. After a natural disaster, a family may have lost a home, lost contact with family members, or lost something as simple as a favorite tree. These emotions of loss and isolation can be hard for all families and students, but they may also be the first time our younger students have experienced loss.

It can be challenging to know the “best” way to navigate through a post-disaster environment, both emotionally and physically. First, try to return to a sense of normalcy and routine as quickly as possible. Returning to familiarity is helpful if there are other areas of life far from “normal.” Second, be open to sharing times, if appropriate, in class. Sometimes it is more efficient to have a timed sharing moment during warm up or cool down and then refocus the class rather than fighting a distracted class for the entire time. Lastly, there is a strong desire to be there for dancers as the teacher, studio owner, and/or parent. Know your limits. You cannot be everything to every student in every situation and there may be a time where the students need counseling, intervention, or medical support in addition to the walls of the dance studio. Know what you know, but also know what you don’t know.

Students returning to class may have difficulty focusing. Returning to a routine can feel welcoming and restorative, but can also feel pointless and distracting. The challenge is that each student has unique needs, not just in technique training but also in their emotional lives. An open expressive environment like a dance class can be the road to recovery, healing, reaching the new normal. Providing space for expression while providing stability in structure provide an environment to build strength. Finding a balance between providing structure, strength, athleticism and allowing expression, artistry, and imagination is the gift that dance provides.

The road after a loss can be winding and confusing, but it tends to go through basic stages. These stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. They do not necessarily occur in a singular or linear order. Each person processes and moves through these stages in their unique way and in their own timing. Dance and dance education can support these stages, the individual, and the community as the road to recovery progresses. As dancers, we do not function in isolation and bringing life experiences into our art can provide a richness and fullness to movement. Loss can provide inspiration for artistry, expression, and growth. In short, the perfect plie can be the exact treatment needed to start down the long road after loss.


Writer: Kathleen Davenport, MD


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