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updated: 11/12/2012 11:28 AM

North Shore Therapist Encourages "Dancing Through Dementia"

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  • North Shore Dance Therapy Logo, Deerfield, IL

    North Shore Dance Therapy Logo, Deerfield, IL

North Shore Dance Therapy

Dance is known to some as a performing art, to others as a way to burn off the calories from the chocolate cake that your co-worker brought to the office or a way to blow off steam in the nightclub on a Saturday evening, but what about dance as a therapy? What about using dance as a way for individuals to communicate when traditional forms of communication are hindered by aphasia, mild cognitive impairment, or dementia?

Erica Hornthal, owner and President of North Shore Dance Therapy (NSDT), located in Deerfield, understands the power that movement can have for individuals whose verbal communication skills may be hindered. "Movement is universal and body language is the earliest form of communication we have. From the moment we are born we are sending messages through the body to convey our needs and wants. This need to communicate never goes away."

As a movement therapist, Mrs. Hornthal uses body movement to provide the means of assessment and the mode of intervention in therapy. In a dance/movement therapy session, music and props are often incorporated to encourage extension of movement, self expression and socialization. Many movement styles and approaches can be used to attain interaction and authentic expression including, but not limited to, creative drama, exercise, relaxation techniques, massage, social dancing, and interactive games. Mrs. Hornthal says, "dance therapy is not about the dance, but about using movement as a tool for communication. It is about connecting movement to psychological processes."

Dance/movement therapy (DMT), according to the American Dance Therapy Association, is the "psychotherapeutic use of movement to further the emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of the individual." DMT supports that mind, body, and spirit are connected and that individuals should be treated in such a way that supports integration of these three entities. DMT operates on the premise that our life experiences are held in the body, and that through the use of movement, memories and emotions can be recalled and re-experienced despite cognitive, psychological, or physical impairment.

In regard to individuals with dementia, dance/movement therapy has been effective in stimulating social interaction, enhancing mood, reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms, increasing self-awareness and self-expression. Dance/movement therapy can even maintain and improve memory and cognitive functioning. The focus of communication is on non-verbal attunement and mindfulness, both of which become increasingly important as many dementias affect language and cognitive awareness.

North Shore Dance Therapy provides counseling and psychotherapy for individuals, couples, families and groups who have been touched by dementia. Services are available throughout the Chicagoland area. NSDT also offers Alzheimer's care consulting as well as caregiver supportive counseling. It is the mission of NSDT to make therapy accessible by providing in-home therapy. Mrs. Hornthal finds that bringing the therapy into the home provides a more secure, safe, and familiar environment which allows for more effective therapy and communication.

For more information:

Contact North Shore Dance Therapy at (847) 848-0697 or email Erica Hornthal at