I don’t dance… at least I try to avoid it.
I love to listen to music but my creative gifts don’t lie in really hearing the notes of the music or making my own. My rhythm is, to say the least… lacking and I am self conscious in my moving body… never sure what my feet are doing or how to move gracefully from one place to another. And I don’t even know where to begin to put my hands, my arms… my hips.
But today I was working with my Alzheimer’s group. This a group of people who have young-onset Alzheimer’s and they are progressing to the point where many of them can’t speak to their experiences. Their verbal ability is waning as the disease progresses but they enjoy music, hitting a drum, and working with art materials that don’t require finite motor skills.
An amazing music therapist and I work together to provide them with opportunities to communicate through sound and images. This often evokes memories and deep joy as well as sadness. Today as we worked with drums the music therapist said that often when people are drumming they are able to be fully present in the moment, losing themselves in the beat and rhythms of these simple sounds.
As we were drumming one woman conveyed in a few words and by showing us on her drum the way she learned to drum in Mexico. And then our music therapist began playing the song La Bamba on her guitar. As the song unfolded and the members of the group began to pick up the beat on their drums this woman came alive and began dancing in her chair. Our therapist asked her if she wanted to dance and she nodded yes and so I got up to help her up out of her chair. But once she was up she didn’t let go of me and she began to dance…
In those moments, lost in her joy I joined her in the dance and we clumsily danced in a small circle while the others drummed and the music therapist sang and played. It was simple and beautiful and awkward, we communicated through the movement and I followed her lead moving in a circle, twirling and swinging close and moving away forgetting to be anxious.
There was a time this woman would have danced circles around me and later her husband told me that they used to go out and dance techno, that she loved it.
On the days I work with these folks I am filled with such a mix of emotions. I am so sad for what they are losing, their memories, their independence, even their identities. The glimpses we receive, into their lives and stories are like small gifts of light, like stars that glimmer for moments in a dark sky and then disappear behind clouds.
But as they live with their disease they invite us to be singularly present with them in the moment. Whatever happened moments ago is forgotten and what is about to unfold is beyond their control. There is only right now. This beat, this note, this song. I am so deeply thankful to receive their wisdom and to live in this space with them and be invited to dance.
I don’t speak Spanish and when I got home today I looked up the lyrics to La Bamba. I discovered the first few lines of song translated into English are,
In order to dance the Bamba
In order to dance the Bamba
You need a little bit of grace
a little bit of grace