The National Center for Dance Therapy has been offering services since 2019 in two Arche communities, in Beloeil and Montreal. These organizations provide environments where people with and without intellectual disabilities live, work, learn, and grow together.
Since winter 2023, we are happy to have expanded our dance therapy services all the way to Lanaudière, to the local Arche community. Below, Éric Chartier, director of Arche Lanaudière, as well as Sandra El-Sabbagh, dance therapy intern, answer a few questions about the organization and the impact of dance therapy for their residents.
Tell us about Arche Lanaudière? What is your vision?
Éric: Proud of its 20 years of operations, L’Arche Lanaudière (Joliette), the newest L’Arche community in Quebec, is vibrant and welcoming. It has two residences and offers day workshops, as well as respite services. Well integrated into its community, L'Arche Lanaudière offers day programs allowing people living with an intellectual disability to reveal their talents and get involved in the society.
Who are the residents of L'Arche?
Éric: There is a meaning to each person's life. Discovering one's own value beyond one's weaknesses, believing in oneself, in one's own abilities, is not always easy, even less so when our differences can become a pretext for exclusion. Like everyone else, people with an intellectual disability have their strengths and limitations. However, these limitations are sometimes more obvious than the average person.
At the Arche Lanaudière, we are convinced that when each person has their role to play in society, it will finally be easier to understand the inestimable value of people with intellectual disabilities. Since our society needs tangible examples of humanity, people who know how to remain faithful to the little things of everyday life and who bring us back to the essential values, we believe that we must give them their rightful place. Our life experience beside and among them proves us that this mutual exchange is an exceptional and desirable path for humanity.
What place does art occupy in the lives of residents of L’Arche?
Éric: Art is a tool of self-expression that allows members of the Arche (people with intellectual disabilities) to express their talents through different mediums (canvas painting, crafts, videos, drawings, dances , music and songs). At the Arche, we believe in the potential of people and we try to encourage their respective talents in various ways.
Why did you choose dance as a therapeutic tool?
Éric: This very inclusive medium allows all people with an intellectual disability to be in touch with their bodies and their emotions through music and dance. The dance therapist’s professionalism allows each person, however limited, to be able to take part in the workshop and to develop their senses and their artistic side. These dance therapy sessions allow our members to live a group experience.
How often do the dance therapy sessions take place?
Sandra: The dance therapy sessions are offered once a week and each session lasts one hour.
What impacts and benefits do you observe with residents during dance therapy sessions?
Sandra: Dance therapy has a huge impact on the participants. What stands out, in the first place, is the enthusiasm, cheerfulness and energy that dance and movement bring them. There is an infectious joy that is shared every time, cheers and beaming smiles. There is also a lot of creativity that is developed and deepened among the participants from one session to the other. Everyone has an opportunity to explore their own abilities, ingenuity and even their limits and to be able to recognize them. From one session to another, we notice greater expansions and better balance at the muscular level, less shyness and greater self-confidence. The participants blossom a little more each week. We see more confidence in their movement and dance.
Do you have a beautiful story, a moving moment to share with us from these sessions?
Sandra: Each session in itself is moving and special. Just looking at the beautiful faces of the participants and their bright eyes brings indescribable satisfaction and appreciation. To know that dance therapy motivates a person to come to class week after week, to feel the efforts and initiatives that the group as a whole and the individuals in particular are investing gives me a sense of pride that I carry inside of me. The love and kindness they exude remind me of how exceptional the residents of Arche Lanaudière are. A non-verbal person who tries to communicate, another one with reduced mobility who wants to kick with their feet, a third person with a mental health disorder who takes initiative… all of these are highly emotional moments.
Do you have anything else you would like to share?
Sandra: I consider myself lucky to be able to be present as a dance therapy intern with the residents of the Arche Lanaudière. I am delighted to meet these wonderful, touching and unique people. After each session, I receive their love and tenderness and we promise to see each other’s the coming week… I leave the residence being a better version of myself.
Éric: Thank you to the NCDT for allowing us to live this enriching experience with your very professional and human team. You too are making a great difference in our society.