Moving Melodies

Organization Associated with Program
Sadhana Dance Theater
607 Robin Road
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48103

Moving Melodies is a participatory arts program designed to enhance the physical and mental health and quality of life of older adults. In a shared space that allows for creative expression--participants demonstrate a sense of control and empowerment through the mastery of singing, dancing, and story telling activities. Playshops encourage self-expression and promote mental and physical agility, and social connection. They are customized to meet the needs of diverse adult groups based upon participants' physical and mental abilities. The instructional design is sequential, with each activity building on the one before it--and each playshop building on the ones before them. Each step is meant to be challenging, yet achievable. Content emphasizes participation, however attendees may choose to listen and watch. Playshop components are circular, where design, implementation, and evaluation are ongoing.

Led by a professional teaching artist, the focus is on self expression, mastery, and social engagement. Participants co-create a body of work that is constantly evolving, building upon songs and dances over time, creating an original body of work (that can be performed). The design encourages participant input, adjusting sequencing to best express individual interests and abilities. Related activities include deep immersion singing, movement, story telling, and emotive expression (similar to mime, but based upon the gesture vocabulary of Bharatanatyam). In the course of ongoing playshops participants demonstrate excellence and mastery: a learning community is created where participants are nurtured and supported by the facilitator and their peers. Moving Melodies Dancing playshops have been offered since 2011. Approximately 50 adults have been served yearly.

Program History

SDT Artistic Director Marcia Madhavi designed Moving Melodies (formally Life Story Dancing) in 2011, in response to an older friend's depression after a diagnosis of dementia. In researching best practice activities for older adults, including those with memory loss, Marcia discovered that dancing and making music were the most beneficial activities for enhancing brain functioning and mood. Motivated by her friend Bob's deepening depression, Marcia used her skills as a professional dancer and musician to design a participatory arts practice for older adults. Moving Melodies Dancing is based upon criteria established in the ground breaking research on creativity and aging, The Creativity and Aging Study (Cohen, 2006). Working with Bob in weekly playshops, Moving Melodies Dancing pedagogy evolved in conjunction with his abilities and sense of empowerment. Over the course of the first nine months, Bob's mood improved, as did his mobility, balance, breath and vocal control, and memorization of song lyrics and melodies. As the disease progressed, Bob was less able to articulate the benefits he experienced. He looks forward to playshops (ongoing for 24 months), and is visibly enlivened by the interaction and activities. His adult children have positively assessed the benefits to their father. These first tangible, positive results of playshops encouraged Marcia to connect with the creative aging movement, and with activity directors at senior living and care facilities. She began facilitating playshops at senior living facilities in 2012. Working with groups of active and frail older adults expanded the SDT mission, bringing the experience of creativity/flow to a broader population.

Program Assessments and Evaluations

Evaluations are currently informal, based upon participant, staff, and family input through interviews and reviewing attendance numbers. These informal evaluations are conducted by staff and participant family members. 

Advice for Other Organizations Conducting Similar Programs

The major hurdle for creative aging teaching-artists is ignorance and lack of visibility (with few national and often no local elder arts programs to reference). Resilient outreach is necessary to educate senior facilities directors and the public about evidence based research on the cost effective benefits of creative arts programs for elders.

Kinds of creative engagement/ program focus Creation of Original Work, Presenting a Performance, Participate in a Class, Participate in a Workshop, Participate in an Ensemble, Take Private Lessons
Arts Discipline: Dance, Folk/Traditional Arts, Literature, Music, Musical Theater
Interdisciplinary Connections: Civic Engagement, Health / Medicine, Volunteerism
Target Audience: Active Adults, Caregivers - Family, Caregivers - Professional, Frail Older Adults
Adaptive Program Design Mobility Disabilities, Cognitive Disabilities, Intellectual Disabilities
Program Setting: Adult Day Care, Aging Organization (e.g. Senior Center), Arts Organization, Community Center, Healthcare - Acute Care (e.g. Clinic / Hospital), Healthcare - Long Term Care, Healthcare - Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), Healthcare - Home Care, Sports, Recreation or Health Club (e.g. YMCA/YWCA)
Program Service Area: Suburban, Urban
Type of Practice: Promising Practices