The Therapy of Dance

The Therapy of Dance

by Susan Neuhalfen

Teresa Cooper has a heart for people who are different.

The UNT dance instructor who teaches ballet, modern, tap, and choreography in the Dance and Theatre Department has always enjoyed bringing music and dance to life.

“My husband and I were part of a performance group that went to nursing homes and other facilities,” she said. “We would work one on one with different people because music and dance are good therapy for everyone.”

Last year, a friend approached her about a teaching a dance class for people with special needs. Teresa thought it was a great idea so she approached Elya Coleman, the owner of A Time to Dance studio in Hickory Creek. Elya agreed it would be a great time to try it.

The class began fall 2015 and they had several students sign up – surprisingly, mostly boys. The class is free one day a week and includes students with different conditions.

“One of the biggest challenges is getting them to stay vertical when they plié,” said Teresa. “Many students have a tendency to bend forward when they bend their knees so dance helps with posture.”

She told of one student who was always slumped over and looking down. They began working on extending his spine through dance imagery. She also had him stretching with an exercise ball. Now he stands up straight and looks up more.

Another student was unable to slide/gallop across the floor, a skill many find basic. They worked on it for months. One day, he finally got it and everyone was jumping for joy.

In addition to the physical benefits, Teresa says they find themselves teaching social skills as well.

“Many are shy so we start each class with a prayer circle” she said. “At the end of class we ask them to thank the musicians who work with us by shaking their hands and looking them in the eye.”

There are actually many social skills that involve dance including learning when
it’s okay to touch someone and how to dance with other people. Skills that most take for granted have to be taught to many of her students.

Teresa also has a special connection to this class. Her husband, Andy, serves as the pianist for the class. Andy was a professional musician who suffered a stroke six years ago. He was left paralyzed on his left side as a result of the stroke. He had to learn to play with only one hand and now serves as an inspiration not only to the students, but to his biggest fan, Teresa.

“He has come so far and I’m really proud of him,” said Teresa.

Teresa explained that Andy had a hard time doing the basic things, which is typical after a debilitating stroke. The class has proven to be therapeutic because he has to really be engaged throughout the class. Teresa also loves it because it’s something they can do together. They discuss the class on the way there as he chooses just the right music. His next challenge will be learning music for hip-hop.

“I teach more of a modern dance class but they’ve asked for more hip-hop. We’re going to work on that for the fall class,” said Teresa.

They also hold classes in the summer and the students have become close, working together and growing physically and socially. They are hoping to expand by starting another adaptive class for younger students in the fall at A Time to Dance.

“I used to pray that my husband and I would have a ministry together,” said Teresa. “It’s been a long road, but now we do.”

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