Movement therapy a good stage for overcoming struggles, building self-esteem
By Barbara Micale, National Capital Region
As the Rhythms of Hope Dance Company performs on stage at the Schlesinger Concert Hall in Northern Virginia, Marianne Talbot stands in the wings feeling much like a proud mom. She knows only too well the amount of hard work, determination, and just sheer courage it has taken each and every member of the 14-person dance troupe to get to this point.
Talbot, a doctoral student in the human development program at Virginia Tech in the National Capital Region, and president and founder of the National Rehabilitation & Rediscovery Foundation (NRRF) Inc., established the Rhythms of Hope Dance Company in 1997 to provide adults and teens who have brain injuries and other neurological disabilities with freedom of expression through movement.
“The dances tell the stories of life’s struggles, and the growth and rediscovery process that takes place over time,” says Talbot. “They also help educate and enlighten audiences about the potential of persons with disabilities and the power of the human spirit.”
The dance company performs an average of 10 times a year at various venues and events in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. The company is an outgrowth of one of the innovative rehabilitation services offered by NRRF: movement therapy.
“Movement focuses on encouraging self-expression and increasing self-esteem while improving balance and coordination, strength and endurance, body awareness, cognitive processing skills, and social competency skills,” Talbot says.
The four additional rehabilitative services offered by NRRF are cognitive rehabilitation, life skills training, holistic case management, and neuromuscular training.
About 100 people participate annually in these various programs – all funded through grants.
Talbot earned a master of arts in education and human development from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and a bachelor of arts from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla. She is certified as a movement analyst (CMA) from the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies and as a rehabilitation counselor (CRC), case manager (CCM), and rehabilitation provider (CRP).
For a number of years, Talbot searched for a doctoral program that would help her build on 20 years of rehabilitation experience working with individuals with brain injuries and other neurological disabilities. At first she thought she might have to go to California to find what she needed. Then she learned about Virginia Tech’s program.
In the adult learning and human resource development option at Virginia Tech, Talbot says she found a perfect match: an academic path that parallels her career path. “My everyday work experience with clients allows me the opportunity to integrate theory into practice so I can try to help and encourage them even more,” says Talbot.
Her doctoral thesis, completed in spring 2006, is a qualitative study, “The Dynamics of Therapeutic Dance Movement Intervention for Individuals with Brain Injuries: A Comparison with Physical Therapy using Laban Movement Analysis.” It consists of case studies observing the dynamics of five people with brain disorders who participated in five weeks of dance/movement therapy classes and five weeks of physical therapy. Talbot analyzed clients’ movement patterns as observed during dance/movement and physical therapy sessions and recorded findings on the similarities and differences between the two interventions through Laban Movement Analysis.
“For most people with brain injuries, their development stopped in one brief second,” says Talbot. “They need to relearn even the smallest task, like how to go from sitting to standing. This is difficult because a person with a brain injury or disability often can no longer sense his or her own weight, meaning one is unable to sense his or her own self anymore.”
Losing a sense of balance is another major problem for many brain-injured individuals. Talbot found that dance and movement empower these individuals, allowing them more control. “In other kinds of rehab therapies, there is no balance between function and expression,” she says.
“It is really gratifying to be involved with Marianne’s research study,” says Marcie Boucouvalas, director of the adult learning and human resource development program and Talbot’s major professor. “Because there is so little known about how brain-injured and disabled people learn, or re-learn, this is a venture into the unknown.
“Learning, in general, is such a broad concept and much of what we know really transcends language,” she says.
But Boucouvalas says there is something she does know for sure.“If you watch the Rhythms of Hope Dance Company even for a few minutes you will be inspired. You will sense immediately how Marianne respects, teaches, guides, and encourages these unique performers. She is helping them live a new life to their fullest potential.”