Using dance therapy to heal the body and mind

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CHICAGO-- Using movement to exercise the mind. For those suffering with memory problems and physical decline, dance helps bring them out of isolation and into the moment.

Erica Hornthal, North Shore Dance Therapy: “People hear dance and they assume it’s going to be a dance class with a warm up and going across the floor.”

But in Erica Hornthal’s weekly class at CJE Senior Life in Evanston, it’s less about mobility and much more about the mind.

Erica Hornthal: “Even though its physical and we’re sweating … it’s definitely psychological.”

Even the movements that look like exercises have a more meaningful, mindful purpose.

Erica Hornthal: “When we stretch out and reach across, it’s encouraging social interaction. We do a lot of reaching up and reaching down that taps into the individual. It instills confidence, respect, identity.”

Fred Schmidt, dance therapy participant: “I have Parkinson’s, and it’s a never ending disease. It affects my speech and my balance primarily is lost.”

Erica Hornthal: “They feel empowered, and they feel like they are in control of their bodies instead of this disease taking over.”

Fred Schmidt: “It makes me relax more and I feel better.”

The steps are simple – more gesture than traditional dance – and designed to spark social interaction and stir memories.

Erica Hornthal: “Whether it’s a memory that sparks a movement or the movement that then sparks the reminiscing, it unlocks their speech, it unlocks their potential.”

Sara Kurganoff, dance therapy participant: “I like to dance. I love to dance, but now I can’t. I lost my balance.”

But midway through the class, Sara was up on her feet … her balance struggles forgotten.

Erica Hornthal: “They come in with what they think they can’t do and they leave with things that they can.”

The practice can help people of all ages – Erica’s youngest patient is three ... her oldest 107.

To learn more about Erica and dance therapy, check out

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