Empowering Older Adults to Embrace the Joy of Dance



When NBS alumna Rachel Bar attended university after her professional ballet career, she discovered early clinical psychology research examining the benefits of dance for people living with Parkinson’s disease. In 2010, she returned to NBS as the Health Initiatives and Research Consultant, growing programs designed to study and share the benefits of dance with older adults and seniors living with a range of cognitive and/or physical disabilities. Rachel is now NBS’ Director of Research and Health. Her leadership, as well as collaborative partnerships with organizations in the health and research sectors, have put NBS at the head of research in the emerging and flourishing overlap of dance, aging and well-being. In 2022, NBS received the designation of Research Institute from the Government of Canada. This designation will support our continued collaboration with dance researchers in the community and also allow NBS to take the lead on its research priorities.

Today, NBS Older Adults programs encourage artistry and physicality through dance, helping older adults develop skills and confidence, while also enriching their day-to-day lives through community-building and creative expression. Dancing engages multiple systems and circuits in the brain and body, which may be particularly helpful as we age, especially for people living with physical and/or cognitive challenges such as Parkinson’s disease or dementia.

Ruthie’s Story

Ruth “Ruthie” Snider believes that true health involves the mind, body and spirit. But for most of her life, she had felt like her body had been missing. As a child, a doctor told her that walking and swimming would be the only exercises she could ever do. After being so physically limited for most of her life—plus going through two hip replacements at a relatively young age—she felt like she had no concept of her body anymore.

When we met her in 2016, Ruthie was one of a small group of participants in a Sharing Dance Older Adults pilot project, in which we originally explored live-streaming weekly classes from our studios at NBS to Ruthie’s rural community. Now, Ruthie’s a dancer.


Ruthie has been an integral part of the program pilot, including its evaluation and iteration. She has advocated to make dance available at her local library, seeking funding support in her rural community near Peterborough, Ontario. Ruthie has shared her journey in dance at speaking engagements and conference opportunities, and she has danced at events, in community and at home.


“Dance has enriched my life in so many ways,” says Ruthie. “From your initial visit to our [community], through the various iterations and pilots with Trent [University], and the many contacts and connections since those early beginnings, you all have given me (and many other seniors, people with dementia, people housed in elderly facilities) a new and a more healthy lease on life. You have honoured my journey, asked for and appreciated my input, and given me a new identity in which physical literacy is now an inherent part. You have embraced me in your community of dance.”

 

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