I currently work as a full-time dance/movement therapist at a day training program that serves adults with Developmental Disabilities, some of whom have Down syndrome. In honor of World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD) on March 21st, I want to share about my work with an individual with Down syndrome. Let’s call him “Kris.”
On Wednesdays I lead a dance/movement therapy (DMT) group titled, “Performance as Therapy,” which is based upon current performance as therapy literature (D’Annunzio, 2013; Goldman & Larsen, 2011; Malling, 2013) as well as principles of Authentic Movement (Adler, 1999). In this group I allow participants to choose music and perform for the group, while other group members act as audience members. Sometimes group members dance alone or sometimes a performance manifests into a duet, trio, or a whole group performance. After each performance, we verbally process what it was like to perform and what type of movement we witnessed as audience members.
From week to week, Kris consistently chose to dance to Katy Perry’s song, “Firework.” His dance included full-bodied movements that changed in level (e.g, low to high) and Effort elements (qualities of movement). After performing, Kris would often smile, high-five group members, and say that he, “imagined fireworks coming out of his chest” as he danced. While observing Kris perform from week to week, it appeared that dancing to “Firework” was an opportunity for him to creatively express himself as an adult male and to be seen in his expression through performance.
After a handful of groups, I asked Kris if he would like to perform his “fireworks dance” for the larger day training program community in an upcoming talent show. He agreed. On the day of the performance, I checked-in with Kris. During this check-in he asked me to perform with him as his back-up dancer. Although I was taken aback by his request, I honored it and performed with him. Throughout the performance I used my skills in mirroring, attunement, and choreography to support Kris’ performance. He was the star and I was merely following his lead. While performing, I noticed the audience clapping, smiling, mirroring our movement and some audience members were even tearing up.
After Kris and I struck our closing pose, he turned to me for a high-five. The crowd was clapping and cheering for us, some participants ran to the stage area to give Kris a hug. After dancing with Kris I felt a profound sense of joy – I felt like crying. I had followed Kris’ lead and abandoned any inhibitions I had about dancing and improvising in front of people. (I’m a professional dance/movement therapist after all.) That day, Kris, an individual with Down syndrome, had reminded me about passion and joy I feel in movement and performing. He reminded me that moving and performing gave way to an authentic expression of myself— I felt like I had fireworks coming out of my chest.
Learn more about Down syndrome on WDSD:
- Adler, J. (1999). Who is the witness? A description of authentic movement. In P. Pallaro (Ed.). Authentic Movement: Essays by Mary Starks Whitehouse, Janet Adler and Joan Chodorow (pp. 141-159). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. (Original work published in 1987).
- D’Annunzio, E. (2013). Performance as therapy: An intervention for adults with developmental disabilities (Unpublished master’s thesis). Columbia College Chicago, Chicago, IL.
- Goldman, L. & Larsen, K.E. (2011, October). Performance as therapy: A framework for creative collaboration. Paper presented at the 48th annual conference of the American Dance Therapy Association, Minneapolis, MN.
- Malling, S.H. (2013). Choreography and performance with deaf adults who have mental illness: Culturally affirmative participatory research. American Journal of Dance Therapy, 35(2), 118-141.
- What is Dance/Movement Therapy?
- What Does a Dance/Movement Therapy Session Look Like?
- Dance/Movement Therapy With Individuals With Developmental Disabilities
This post was originally published on March 21st, 2015.