6 hours ago
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
7 Questions For...a pediatric physical therapist who runs Dancing Dreams
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Joann Ferrera is a physical therapist who runs a program in Bayside, New York, called Dancing Dreams. It's just for kids with physical challenges; many of her students, who range in age from 3 to 16, have cerebral palsy. I am amazed by her; you can't watch this video and not tear up. She recently answered a few questions for me.
So, what made you start Dancing Dreams?
I am a pediatric physical therapist. During PT sessions some patients would dress up and we'd pretend-play. One day a little girl who had on a tutu said to me, "I wish I could be a ballerina like my friends." That made me think, why not?
Can you explain how dancing can be therapeutic to kids with physical challenges?
Any movement is therapeutic. We have seen improvements in balance and movement. It never ceases to amaze me to watch the dancers on stage and the pride they have in their individual accomplishments, be it raising an arm or taking a step. One of our dancers stood independently for the first time during our recital.
How can kids who don't walk participate in dancing?
Our dancers are each paired with a helper, a trained high-school student, to assist during class. Some dancers are in wheelchairs and they move within and with their chair. Some stand with support for some dances and sit for others.
How can a parent do dance therapy at home?
Music is a great motivator! Don't try to be too structured—allow your child to interpret the music and move in whatever way they choose. We use lots of props—scarves, wands and tutus are great! Just remember, keep it fun. It isn't about quality, it's about moving. I find that in general, when kids start to move they will be motivated to work on what they need to, and accomplish what they want to.
What kind of music is good to play?
I use a wide variety, from the "Hokey Pokey" for the youngest group to "Celebration" to "Rock Around The Clock" as well as traditional ballet music. I have a Laura Hausman ballet music CD that I like but I really vary the music—I find that different children respond better to different music. I also like to vary the music as the slower songs are better for controlled movements—keeping the body still while just moving the arms—and the quicker good for quick balance adjustments.
Many people reading this will not have access to your program—do you know of any similar ones around the country?
As far as I know, this program is unique in the set up and the fact that I am a physical therapist. We have recently become a nonprofit and hope to bring the program to more cities in the near future.
What's your absolute best advice for parents of children with special needs?
Every child is unique. Find your child's passion and embrace it whatever it is. From my thirty years of experience as a therapist, I can tell you that is the key to motivation. Find team members who support your child's (and your) goals and who are receptive to your needs. Don't be afraid to question—but take the time to listen to the answers.
For info about the upcoming recital in April (admission is free), visit Dancing Dreams.