Dance as Therapy

Biology Student Finds a Lab That Makes a Difference in Peoples’ Lives

Biology major Louis Susca ’16 was looking for a lab with an interpersonal focus. He found it in Stony Brook’s Center For Dance, Movement and Somatic Learning, where Founding Director Amy Yopp Sullivan leads a workshop designed to enhance the lives of Parkinson’s patients. 

Louis Susca

Louis Susca

Every week during the academic year, Susca assists as a small group of patients experience the benefits of movement, dance and creative thinking. For Susca, studying neurological science means more than just hitting the books. The workshop has taught him the importance of a supportive environment, a collaborative spirit and a positive attitude.

“The patients seem to come in happy to see us. The women greet me with a hug while the men offer a very positive and firm handshake,” said Louis. “You know you’re in a good place when they walk through the door.”

Louis became involved with the Center three semesters ago after participating with a cohort in one of Sullivan’s workshops.

That’s when he met Norman G., a Parkinson’s patient who uses the class to supplement traditional therapy sessions, hospitalization and rehabilitation in a nursing home. Although Parkinson’s is a progressive disease with no known cure, Norman and his wife Barbara believe that Norman has benefited from attending the workshop.

“Starting with the first session, we were able to see positive changes,” said Barbara. “The overall stiffness that was present when my husband entered the session greatly decreased over the course of that hour — many everyday activities leave him frustrated due to his inability to perform them adequately, but having the success he experiences during these classes is a huge benefit not only physically but psychologically.”

There is also the added benefit of socialization with people who are going through similar struggles. “In the past my husband did not look forward to his therapy sessions and eventually would not attend them. Now he would not miss them,” said Barbara.

“It’s definitely not a miracle cure, but rather a way to offer others a graceful place for developing relationships and enjoying movement experiences, playful moments and inspiration that reminds them to sense fully, breathe deeply and experience the moments of gratitude that are present in their lives,” Sullivan said.

Since becoming involved in the program in spring 2015, Louis says he also looks forward to the session every week.

“From my perspective, the group began as a few breathing and dance exercises paired with calm music to see what the effects of supplemented movement are on patients. After a few sessions, Professor Sullivan and I observed an increase of motion among the group members,” he said.

Louis will be participating in the movement and dance therapy again in the fall and expects to graduate in December.

— Glenn Jochum

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