Faculty Features: How Dance Heals

By Helen Hayes, Youth Dance Ensemble Director and Adult Modern and Jazz teacher @ Joy of Motion Dance Center

It has been my great privilege and honor to call myself a dance educator for the last 20 years. I have spent most of those years at Joy of Motion Dance Center, which has been the place that has given me both my “roots and wings” as a teacher. Over those 20 years, I have met and worked with so many extraordinary people.

People come to dance for many reasons. Some hope to lose weight, become more coordinated or flexible or to abandon the worries of the day for the 90 minutes they are in class. Some come to class as a means to express their inner most feelings or to communicate through the movement. Some come to socialize. Some come to dance classes to help themselves HEAL.

Over the past 20 years, several amazing women with breast cancer have graced my classroom. The degree of severity of the disease has differed among them, but their need to dance as a means of healing has been a constant. They have gone through the horrors of disfigurement, chemotherapy, radiation and more, but their hearts have remained whole, bringing them back to dance and back to the classroom, time and time again. Their perseverance and passion have been an inspiration to all of us as we have witnessed their fatigue, the loss of their hair and their frustration from time to time and yet they have pushed forward and continued to dance. In talking to them, they have shared their most personal thoughts on why dance has been so important to them during this time. Dance allows them to feel feminine, beautiful, strong and ‘in control’ at a time when they feel ugly, weak an in control of nothing. Dance lets them escape the hardship of what has happened to them and come back to ‘the self’ they knew before the disease ravished their bodies. Dance gives them hope and makes them stronger when they return to their families as they re-claim their sense of self through the movement. At JOMDC, each classroom is a community where people can find support and honest human connections.

This past July, I had the great fortune to conduct a mother-daughter class with an extraordinary woman, breast cancer survivor and beloved student, Trisha Creekmore. As a part of her healing, she wanted nothing more than the opportunity to dance with her children and to have her husband, Dave be a witness to the magic

I began the class on the floor, helping Trisha and her girls become more in touch with their ‘instrument’ and the way their bodies prepare to dance. This was followed by several combinations; each one displaying different techniques that Emma and Lily picked up with a fair amount of ease. They were all so beautiful. Trisha beamed broadly through the entire class, and was thrilled to be doing modern dance with her girls. I was having the time of my life!

At the end of the lesson, we performed a short ‘community/ improvised dance’ in which we each created movements that corresponded to words and linked them together. The words we danced to were: INSPIRATION, JOURNEY, DETERMINATION and HOPE. After our mini-performance, there are lots of hugs and a few tears. Dave (Trisha’s husband) says how proud he is that the girls saw how strong their mom is, and got a glimpse of the connection between art and life through dance. I think to myself….” I am just proud to know this incredible woman!”

Cancer survivors have said to me that my classes (filled with that sense of community) have been an incredible gift to them and an integral part of their healing. Looking forward to their next dance class was sometimes the one thing that got them through the day. What these survivors do not know is that it is THEY that are the incredible ones. I know that I am a better teacher and a better person because their paths have crossed mine. In working with them, I have received so much more than I have given. I’m a daughter, a teacher, a sister, a friend, and I’m a dancer.