The music, of Aboriginal inspiration, lets the soothing sound of a stream filter between the long notes of a melancholy flute. The participants follow the rhythm, each in their own way. Some perform movements drawn from the vocabulary of ballet, others stretch out on the ground, several dance with their eyes closed, lost deep within themselves.

We are nearing the end of a dance therapy session. Andrea de Almeida, certified therapist in dance and movement therapy, brings together the participants, all over the age of 50, to reflect on their experience.

They show a refocusing on themselves, but also an expression of empathy towards the First Nations on this June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day.

The scene takes place in a studio of the Grands Ballets Canadiens, as part of the activities of its National Center for Dance Therapy. This center, unique in Canada, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

“We have several areas of intervention,” says Anna Aglietta, who will soon leave the management of the center to return to her native Italy.

She speaks of dance therapy as such, but also of adapted dance, training and research.

“In dance therapy, we explore four aspects of the human being: the social, the physical, the emotional and the cognitive,” says therapist Andrea de Almeida. All this is found in the experience of movement and in the experience of group. »

A number of studies have looked at the benefits of dance and movement in a therapeutic setting.

“On a physical level, it’s pretty obvious,” says Anna Aglietta. There are benefits, for example, in terms of coordination, motor skills and fitness. »

On an emotional level, being able to express oneself without resorting to language can be beneficial for some patients. Ms. Aglietta gives the example of a project that is currently underway in youth centers.

“The goal is to help children manage their emotions in a way that is safe for them, but also for those around them. »

Other projects aimed to work on self-esteem, on reducing symptoms of anxiety.

“In terms of cognitive benefits, we have a research project with McGill around dementia and Alzheimer’s,” Aglietta continues. There are studies that support our observations that dancing may help slow disease progression. It can also allow what are called moments of lucidity, therefore moments of connection between the person affected and the rest of the group or caregivers. »

The social benefits are especially found in the group sessions.

“We’re talking about relating to others, accepting others, but also understanding boundaries and developing empathy,” says Aglietta. This can be very important, for example, for young people with autism: understanding how to respect each other and respect themselves. »

What Ms. Aglietta calls adaptive dancing is a bit more recreational “while still having therapeutic benefits.”

“We try to develop the creativity of young people, for example in our summer camp. »

Adapted dance can particularly be aimed at adolescents with autism, or with Down’s syndrome or an intellectual disability.

Another major component of the National Center for Dance Therapy is training. In Canada, in 2013, there was no formal dance therapy training program, or even certification for dance therapists.

The National Center for Dance Therapy rallied around the American Dance Therapy Association model, which required a master’s degree. The center offers a way to comply with these requirements with various dance trainings.

“Students who have a master’s degree in health and social services can supplement it with graduate courses in dance,” says Ms. Aglietta. Someone who has a master’s degree in dance can go for additional courses in psychology. It’s a bit like a puzzle, people have to find all the pieces to apply for accreditation with the American Dance Therapy Association. »

The last major component of the center is research. He has collaborated in several studies prepared by local universities.

“It’s very important for us and for the development of the community,” says Anna Aglietta. Interventions through dance are still little known. People don’t really understand why dance could have an impact and often, if you don’t have evidence to show, you don’t manage to cross the barrier and enter an institution. Research is also important to improve our services and the skills of our stakeholders. »

Originally, the 50+ sessions were part of a research project. The participants enjoyed the experience so much that they requested that the sessions continue after the project ended.

“It’s my oxygen, my breath of fresh air,” commented Mireille Pilon, one of the participants. It’s a way to express my emotions without being judged, to appeal to my creativity. »