Many of the challenges care partners face are not unique. They are similar to those we face daily in a variety of disciplines as well as in day-to-day living. This means potential solutions to problems are everywhere. Tips, tools and ideas abound. Identifying and applying them to caring can help make our work less stressful and more joyful.
When I stumbled upon Be a Smart Dancer: 10 Qualities of Smart Dancers on Ballet Shoes & Bobby Pins, I was struck by how the qualities of “smart” dancers might apply equally to care partners. I tweaked some of the actions and offer them here in condensed form as “10 smart dance tips for better dementia care.”
1) relate to space
Understand that you dance in a three-dimensional world. Smart dancers know about body directions and how they relate to space. Being spatially aware means you know how to use your space, how to travel upstage, downstage, stage right and stage left. You know not to stand too close to other dancers. You understand how a combination (of steps and moves) will travel so that you can properly set up, and not run out of room before being able to finish the combination. Spatially aware dancers don’t collide with other dancers or get in their way.
Hold space and make space for yourself, your care partner and others around you.
2) stay focused
Smart dancers know how to focus and find their centers–even on bad days. Through exhaustion and frustration, smart dancers pull it together under pressure. They are ready for anything at any moment. If a choreographer needs them to perform a role because someone is injured, they are ready. They push are able to push the chaos away and focus on the current space and time. Smart dancers know how to override stresses to get the job done.
When all hell breaks loose, find a way to come back to center. The triple “A”s in BANGS will help.
3) identify patterns
Smart dancers know the importance of identifying patterns. This helps them communicate and notate movement. When you can identify which part of the pattern you’re discussing, it helps other dancers know where in time and space you are.
Look for patterns in behaviour–your own, your care partner’s and those of others around you. Identifying patters helps determine cause and effect and creates the possibility for change.
4) tap into rhythm
The more you understand music and can hear rhythms inside of rhythms the more detailed, flowing and natural your dancing will become.
Even chaos has rhythm. Listen for it. Tune into it. Move with it.
Pick up on details without being told. Smart dancers watch with the intention to digest information and commit it to memory.
Keep your eyes and ears open. Be a dementia care detective.
Think ahead so you are not in the way. Anticipation is also useful when preparing for auditions and rehearsals. You never know what is going to happen or what you will be asked to do, so you have to prepare for everything.
Understanding that “anything can happen” (and it usually does!), is an extraordinary mindfulness tool that helps caregivers be flexible and let go.
7) make connections
Smart dancers also know the dance world is small, and they know how to interact with different people in order to stay successful. Making connections and understanding how their bodies work and how their discipline works is what keeps them on their toes.
You are not alone. Connect with other care partners. Being isolated is lonely, depressing and counterproductive. Reach out!
8) develop self awareness
Smart dancers know themselves and their weaknesses. Knowing how to take care of yourself is important. Understanding how to prevent injuries or care for injuries when they occur will get you back dancing faster.
Put the oxygen on yourself first. Take breaks. Replenish. Re-energize. Realize you are not a superhero.
9) use diverse techniques
Smart dancers are open to learning different techniques, they actively seek out innovation and educate themselves on what is new and different in the world of dance.
Keep adding to your care partner toolbox. I highly recommend the work of Teepa Snow, Dr. Allen Power, and Naomi Feil. When one tool doesn’t work, try another.
10) become single minded
Smart dances understand the responsibility that falls on their shoulders to dance and dance well; to train and train hard.
Take your responsibility seriously. Do the best you can.
I would add one more important action to this list:
11) experience the joy of dance
I think it’s probably fair to say there are few dancers who hate dancing. Smart dancers LOVE what they do. Yes, it’s hard work. Yes, it takes practice. Yes, there are defeats as well as victories. Dancers soar; they also stumble and fall. We all do.
Look for the joy.
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