Movement to Music for Older Adults
After nearly two years of pandemic-induced shutdowns, Vernetta Bergeon, owner of Vernetta’s Dance Studio in San Diego, an institution over fifty years old, is finally getting older adults dancing again. In addition to teaching students at her well-appointed studio behind the North Park Lions Clubhouse in North Park, she is back to teaching ballroom dancing at Choose Well member, Casa de Manana, as well as La Vida Real. Dancing is a popular activity at senior homes because residents with a wide range of physical and cognitive abilities can participate, including those who cannot stand, and those with memory loss. Residents also benefit from the exercise, social interaction, and overall improved wellbeing.
Vernetta is assisted by her husband, Fred, and together they teach residents of every ability and age. She adapts her classes so that everyone can have fun. If they’re in a wheelchair, or not able to stand, they may still be able to move their arms. Participants that remain seated still enjoy “dancing” to a few routines, even with a partner. As soon as the music starts, she says “they start moving, and they smile, and they laugh, and they’re happy. They can’t thank you enough for dancing with them.” If they use a walker, Vernetta stands with them, and gently helps them sway side to side with the music, while still supporting them so they keep their balance. It’s important to know how far to go to prevent injury. She starts slowly to see what they can do, and then adds a little more movement. Vernetta is very careful when working with older adults. While she gives instruction, her husband might steady a participant by holding onto their waist to make sure they do not fall. With time, she figures out which participants can do a turn by themselves, and who needs to be held.
There are growing indications that dancing and movement can be therapeutic. While more studies need to be done to determine the effectiveness of dance movement as a medical intervention, Vernetta has seen the potential benefits it could have. There was a gentleman at La Vida Real that had memory loss, and he would ask Vernetta “Have I danced with you before?” every time he saw her despite having danced with her for years. Every time he starts dancing though, he would start to relax, smile, and sing old songs. “They sometimes might not remember who they are,” says Vernetta, “but when they hear old music that they know, they would sing to it. When they hear the music, they come alive.” She admits the topic is underrated in the healthcare field, but that’s because she believes there is a lot that hasn’t been discovered yet.
Although it will take time for studies to show evidence that dancing and movement could be a healthcare intervention, for the moment, Vernetta is excited to be starting up a new class soon. Her dance studio in North Park is rolling out a new program, one that she originally planned right when the pandemic started. Called “Movement to Music,” it is a 40-minute instructor-led class where students dance to easy-listening music. However, the music will play randomly, and even the instructor will not know what song will play next. This allows the participants to focus on moving organically to the sound they hear, rather than reciting a routine they had memorized. It is open to all ages, particularly with older adults in mind. The first class starts April 6th, and will continue every Wednesday from 5:00p.m. to 5:40p.m.