Tell us how the project began: what motivated you to look for dance therapy services?
CS: One evening I was watching TV and a documentary came up: it was about dance therapy in a long-term care facility in Québec City. It caught my attention and I was glued to the television. I saw the reaction of a lady who was sitting in a chair, she looked like she was completely disconnected from reality. The therapist stood in the room, just dancing, touching the lady lightly every so often. The lady slowly came to life, following the movement of the therapist. It was an amazing experience to watch. At that moment I decided that I wanted this too, for my residents who were no longer able to enjoy other more complex activities.
I discussed the idea with the former Executive Director of the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Homes Foundation (Ann Maher) and asked if it could be financed by the Foundation. She got involved, got in touch with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and the rest is history and is now the trademark of St. Andrew’s for this clientele. I am so grateful to the Foundation for believing and supporting this specific activity on top of other ones such as music and massage therapy, among many. The new director, Tracy Petzke, is as passionate about this activity as I am.
How often do the dance therapy sessions take place?
CS: Tania comes 3 times per week for 2-4 h each time.
How many residents join them?
CS: Between 35 and 40 residents participate. Some residents who are more cognitively alert wanted to benefit from the dance therapy as well and joined the program.
What are the main benefits you have observed?
CS: I have observed the activity a few times and the smile on the faces of the residents, the attempts to participate in the activity are so touching and is worth every penny invested. Some of the residents seem calmer after the activity, some will fall asleep and I suppose it is because they feel so relaxed after. They also seem more focused during the activity.
TL: Another important benefit is socialization. Dance therapy enhances both the connection between residents and between residents and staff.
How has the clinical staff reacted (if at all) to the program? How do they collaborate with Tania?
CS: I have not heard of any issue. They know how important the activity is for the residents and they make sure to get them ready on time. And Tania seems to have a very good rapport with the staff.
TL: Indeed the staff often joins the dance sessions, when they have time. Many of them have mentioned that they like the music I choose, and how they appreciate this opportunity to connect with residents through dance.
How has Covid-19 affected the program?
CS: There was a huge impact on the specific clientele that this activity was geared to reach. Even if the staff tried to keep them active, the absence of a trained therapist to stimulate them was felt. The combination of music, dance and movement with the guidance of the therapist is key.
TP: We unfortunately had to suspend our funded therapies at the beginning of the first wave of the COVID pandemic. As staff and residents recovered from COVID and St. Andrew’s passed from a red zone to a green zone, the restrictions in place eased. By September, we were able to resume therapies, under strict conditions. Therapists needed to work exclusively at St. Andrew’s to avoid the risk of exposure from visiting multiple centres. This was a wonderful example of collaboration between staff at the CIUSSS and St. Andrew’s, the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Homes Foundation and the National Centre for Dance Therapy. Staff were able to clearly identify what needed to be accomplished for therapy to resume and were then able to provide the support needed for proper infection control training and use of PPE to Tania. The Foundation reached out to the manager of the NCDT, Anna Aglietta, and to Tania to increase the number of weekly hours, to work exclusively at St. Andrew’s. In doubling the hours of dance therapy, we not only ensured that it could resume, but also provided much needed support to the residents. The residents have greatly benefited from dance therapy in the past years, but with regular visits and volunteers still prohibited in long-term care due to COVID restrictions, the benefits are now two-fold. The Foundation is happy to enrich the care of the residents of St. Andrew’s by funding this therapy and are proud to work alongside its staff and with the NCDT. I have witnessed first-hand the impact that Tania has on the residents. Seeing their smiles and reactions to her presence and her movements really solidifies the importance of this therapy and how it can help make a meaningful connection with even the most withdrawn residents. We are grateful for the additional support we received these past months from the “What Connects Us” project and, of course, to all of our donors for their continued support.
How do you make it work while respecting the health measures in place?
CS: Tania has received the proper training on the precautions to take and proper PPE. She accepted to be only working at the Centre to reduce the risks and so the Foundation increased funding to make this possible. Our infection control nurse was also involved, to guide us and provide counselling. She also did some rounds during the dance therapy sessions and brought more suggestions to improve the safety aspect of the activity for both the residents and the therapist.
Did you face any challenges in setting up and maintaining the program? If so, which ones?
CS: I had and continue to receive an AMAZING support from the Foundation. I could not ask for better partner. The director involves herself making sure that the contract is signed on time, reaches out to the therapist to inform her of the new guidelines in place, ensures that everything is going well with the activity, ensures that the training programs are given, etc.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to set up a similar program in their institution?
CS: Find a great partner who can support you financially and understand the benefits it has for the residents! And go for it!
Do you have a story to share about what dance therapy has brought to the residents?
CS: I don’t have one specific story that can pinpoint but, as mentioned above, the smile on the face of the residents makes it feel like they brighten up from within their soul (Tania calls them the "Collection of Moments"). I am not sure if my words translate it well but that’s the way I experienced it watching them.