Dance to Health

Much ado about movement at Montreal's new centre for dance therapy

By Jason Santerre

"Movement never lies,” said Martha Graham, a maven of motion and pioneer in modern dance. “Movement is a barometer telling the state of the soul’s weather to all who can read it.”

“And what is good for the soul is also good for the body and mind,” says Dr. Louis Bherer, scientific director of the PERFORM Centre, a clinical research facility at Concordia University affiliated with the new National Centre for Dance Therapy created via Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. “Physical exercise, like dancing, is good for physical as well as psychological health,” adds Dr. Bherer.

Nowhere is this more apparent than at the dance studios-turned-therapy-centre at 4816 Rivard Street, Montreal. Since its foundation in 1957, les Grands Ballets has pirouetted and pliéd itself toward the forefront of innovative dance. It was that very mandate—to push the envelope—that helped create a national centre for dance therapy. “We asked ourselves: What can we do to make an impact,” says executive director of Les Grands Ballets, Alain Dancyger. “One idea that popped for everyone was going beyond performance and looking at the clinical and therapeutic side of dance,” says Dancyger.

After the plan was set in motion, Dancer’s team was amazed to learn how unique their idea was. As it stands, the National Centre for Dance Therapy is the first project of its kind to combine dance and movement therapy, clinical research, and Canada’s first graduate-level dance therapy-training program. What took so long? “Well, probably nobody saw it as a good business plan,” says Mr. Dancyger, noting that those impressions have changed since representatives from Holland, Croatia and Turkey have all made inquiries about the ins and outs of starting a similar centre for dance therapy.

“The National Centre for Dance Therapy raises our public profile and conveys our broader vision, which is that dance benefits our well-being and is therefore relevant in ways that go beyond culture,” says Dancyger. After all, dance therapy involves more than just a twirl across the dance floor. Therapists have a massive arsenal of creative exercises and props to stimulate the body, senses and emotions.

There are only a handful of dance therapists in Canada, all of whom were trained in the U.S. by the American Dance Therapy Association. That will change. Organizers of the dance therapy centre are in discussions with McGill University, Concordia’s Art Therapy program and UQAM’s dance department to establish a Master’s degree program in dance therapy.

The Centre’s first pilot project, undertaken in conjunction with the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal (IUGM) and PERFORM Centre of Concordia University, is aimed at the elderly. It covers Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s patients as well as those suffering from other neurological diseases. “The project includes about 300 elderly patients who for various reasons are not responding to exercise,” says Dancyger, who hopes the project will help determine whether dance therapy can alleviate physical pain as well as reduce various effects of aging. Now that’s news that’s good enough to get anyone’s toes tapping, regardless of age.

Winter 2014, Vol 6 N°1

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