By Carrie Seidman, Herald-Tribune
Dance is the best medicine.
That was the take-away message of a public forum by The Coalition for Arts and Health, a local grass-roots network of artists, healthcare providers, organizations and individuals working to make the arts — music, theater, visual arts, dance and literary arts — an integral part of health and wellness.
“Dance and Health Integration” turned the focus specifically on dance — at any time, any age, and for anyone. Dr. William Zella, a physician at Doctor’s Hospital; Merry Lynn Morris, a University of South Florida faculty member; and Leymis Bolaños-Wilmott, director of Fuzión Dance Artists, each took a different approach to make the case for the physical, social and cognitive benefits of creative movement.
Merry Lynn Morris with a prototype of her dance mobility wheelchair.
The most fascinating presentation was by Morris, resident choreographer for Tampa’s mixed-ability dance company, REVolutions, who has spent the past six years developing prototypes for a “dance mobility wheelchair,” that allows people with physical disabilities to more easily perform as dancers.
Morris’s research was prompted by the brain and body injuries suffered by her father in a severe car accident. Her professional career in ballet and her desire to pay tribute to her father inspired Morris to make a device “more
equal in terms of what we do with our legs.”
The “rolling dance chair,” designed by engineers in California and now in its third patented prototype, allows movement to be directed entirely by a dancer’s abdominal muscles. The prototype also features a remote control that can be placed on any part of the dancer’s body, a ball base that allows omnidirectional movement and a plexiglass seat that gives the illusion there is no chair.
“There’s no need to use hands or a joy stick,” Morris said. “We took the joy stick and turned it into the chair.”
Zella runs a free weekly dance class for psychiatric patients focused on mental health benefits. Citing an aging study by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine that looked at hobbies ranging from reading and board games to swimming and bicycling, he noted that dance not only had substantial physical (strength,
posture, flexibility) and social benefits (activities out of the house, meeting people, confidence) but was associated with the least amount of cognitive decline of any regularly practiced activity.
Bolaños-Wilmott, the first person in Florida to receive a certificate in Dance in Healing from the University of Florida, used her personal story to underscore how dance can be good medicine. As a child she was challenged academically by a learning disability and physically by extreme scoliosis; through dance she was able to obtain a master’s degree in fine arts, avoid back surgery and create a career that she loves.
“I wasn’t the best writer or reader, but I could move and because I could move, I could communicate,” she said.
To conclude, Bolaños-Wilmott led the audience through a seated mobility exercise, much like the classes she recently began for Parkinsons’ patients.
The Coalition, which operates under the umbrella of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, holds regular membership meetings and will present public forums highlighting the application of the arts in health care throughout the year.
“DANCE AND HEALTH INTEGRATION: An Evening with Experts in the Field of Dance,” presented by the Coalition for Arts and Health, a member of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County.firstname.lastname@example.org, ext. 304
Carrie Seidman has been a newspaper features writer, columnist and reviewer for 30 years…and a dancer for longer than that. She has a master’s degree from Columbia University Journalism School and is a former competitive ballroom dancer. Contact her via email, or at (941) 361-4834. M ake sure to “Like” Arts Sarasota on