The Gift of Dance

Dance is a profound gift; it’s an artistic expression, a mood enhancer, a workout, a surefire way to impress a date and a form of magic. A dancer can transform into a flower, a lion or their favourite pop star. Above all, dance is an act of joy. (We dare you to wiggle around for a minute and not feel happier than you were before.) The gift of dance, and all it provides, has found its way into L’Arche.

A generous donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, funded a weekly dance therapy program in L’Arche Montreal through the National Centre for Dance Therapy (NCDT). The NCDT, a division of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal “promotes the benefits of dance therapy as a method of prevention and for the improvement of individual wellbeing.”

In 2018, dance therapists began coming to L’Arche Montreal every Wednesday. Soon the core members found rhythm with a particular therapist, Carol Jones. Carol had been working in the arts for over three decades. Each week she came equipped with music, instruments, props and a theme.

One theme was “Baking A Cake.” Carol had participants go through the movements of baking — reaching up high for the flour and down low for the sugar. She asked everyone to add their own special touch to their cake, whether it be sprinkles or brussel sprouts. One theme was “Hawaiian Party.” Dance participants walked into the large room to find that it had been decorated with palm trees and colourful float toys. Everyone was given a Hawaiian lei. Carol said, “Imagine you’re on a beautiful tropical island…” There was a magic in her voice that made this house in the middle of Montreal feel like it was a tropical paradise. Though the theme changed every week the classes always had the same objectives: move, expand independence and, of course, discover a sense of joy.

Carol would often hand the spotlight to a core member to lead the group in movement, or play a game that got everyone involved. For instance, one person in a circle would perform a movement, the person to their left would perform the same movement and then add a new movement, going around the circle in a game where laughter was more important than getting the right sequence. She also had a large multi-colour parachute that everyone held onto and together they all made the vibrant fabric dance.

Of course, dancing isn’t inherently for everyone. Once in a while a core member wasn’t in any mood to dance. But with Carol’s magic charm she had that person expressing their emotions through dance and leaving the room in a state of bliss.

Carol took the success she had in L’Arche Montreal and applied it to a similar program at L’Arche Monteregie, thirty kilometres east of Montreal, funded by the same donor. She showed up to L’Arche Monteregie with her usual bells and whistles (among other instruments) and all the community had to do was supply a dance space for approximately eight core members and six assistants.

Unfortunately with the lockdown, dance therapy has been put on hold. Carol is in talks with both L’Arche communities about a virtual version of dance therapy. If the concept were successful, Carol could potentially provide the joys of dancing to even more communities.

Carol had danced all over the world but perhaps no dance space was more special than the living room in the L’Arche Montérégie house Fleurs de Soleil, which overlooks the Richelieu River and Saint-Hilaire Mountain. There she ran her weekly classes in the usual collaborative style. Each week she asked the core members what type of music they wanted to hear. The core members asked for The Beatles, Elvis and emphatically requested Quebec’s national treasure, Celine Dion. The classes were all-round very inclusive. Participants could dance as they liked, participate for twenty minutes or the full hour. After all, dancing itself was never the main objective of the program. Move, expand independence and discover a sense of joy.

Though the program at L’Arche Montérégie only lasted a few months, dancing was one of the highlights of the year. Carol even showed up at the 5th annual L’Arche Montérégie Inclusion Walk. Before the walk began, she led the 260 people in attendance in a mini-dance to get everyone warmed up. Everyone loved the experience and that day L’Arche raised $11,500!

Carol remained at L’Arche Montreal through 2019 and there were hopes that she’d continue in 2020, while joining L’Arche Montérégie and hopefully being a part of this year’s walkathon. Unfortunately with the lockdown, dance therapy has been put on hold. Carol is in talks with both L’Arche communities about a virtual version of dance therapy. If the concept were successful, Carol could potentially provide the joys of dancing to even more communities.

Just because there’s no dance though, doesn’t mean the two communities have lost the meaning of the classes. L’Arche Montreal has kept moving with gardening or putting on a little music and finding their own groove. Two out of the three houses in L’Arche Montérégie revel in the joy of long walks. 

While each house may be at a social distance right now, they’ve found ways to move and stay happy. Everyone in Canada has had to adjust to some level of social distancing but it’s important that we all find ways to stay moving and stay positive. Your activity may be walking, jogging, cycling, dancing. If you’ve yet to find an activity that brings you joy, maybe you should put on some music right now and get those feet moving. Maybe the gift of dance is exactly what you’re looking for.

A Hero Behind the Scenes

Beyond firefighters, medical staff, social workers and police officers, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that there are even more heroes among us. Truck drivers, grocery store clerks, cooks and couriers now rightfully hold an esteemed place in our collective consciousness as they put their health at risk to keep society functioning.

From Hyderabad to Lethbridge Who Would’ve Thought?

After Roop Chittineni finished high school in his hometown of Hyderabad, India he moved to Southern Ontario to pursue a degree in Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo. He liked exercising and thought that if he learned more about the human body he could use that knowledge to elevate everyone’s life experience.

Memory Box: Pinewood Floorboards

What does a set of 1940s floorboards have to teach us about COVID living?

Stepping Up

When Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer stated that non-medical masks limit the transmission of COVID-19, L’Arche Saskatoon’s artsy residents also got to work. Out came the fabrics, scissors, thread and needles. Brock wanted to contribute using two of his greatest assets: his feet.

A Light Ahead

The social distancing caused by the pandemic has been trying. Thankfully, aside from those who have donated their time, money and ingenuity to help L’Arche, there are the health care workers, grocery store clerks and all those on the front line who are helping the L’Arche community get through this crisis. With their help, it won’t be long until the Gathering Place opens again and the community starts making new memories.

Second Life

Kris first met Joanna in L’Arche London, Ontario. She encouraged Kris to join L’Arche, and he did. They lived and worked side-by-side for six years until Kris moved to Nova Scotia. Still, they managed to see each other a few times a year and occasionally called one another about matters of life and faith. But this call was different.

Life’s Tough Obstacles

It was late June. A park in Edmonton had been reserved. Food was stacked on picnic tables. Local students of all ages were dressed in taekwondo uniforms, preparing for their annual Break-a-thon. The Break-a-thon is an innovative fundraiser where martial arts students showcase their skills by breaking boards. For each broken board, donations are pledged and raised for L’Arche.

Taking our place in the inclusion movement

It is an important time for the accessibility and inclusion movement in Canada and the world, and L’Arche Canada is developing our capacity to take our place.

Silent encounter with the “man who repairs women”

Denis Mukwege begs us empathetically to remain attentive, to listen deeply to what is inherent in our human condition: our sensitivity and vulnerability.