Jade & I have recently been granted status as Adjunct Faculty members at The University of Toronto for the work we do in supporting student OT education. We value the opportunity we have to share our inclusive dance community with aspiring OT’s who can learn about innovation, creativity, and family-centered care first-hand. We’ve supervised 7 fieldwork students to date with The Dance Ability Movement, and continue to visit our old campus to give lectures, labs, and discussions about pediatric OT, leisure occupations, and adapting recreational activities. It keeps us connected to the future generation, current evidence-based care, and has also given us some of our best OT’s! Did you know Rachel & Casey are both former students with us?
This past spring we took on a first-year student for the first time. Melissa, a first-year student from the East Coast, who has never danced, was excited to spend 6 weeks with us, and also joined us for the Symposium in Montreal we attended in May. You likely saw her helping out at our year-end recitals! We asked her to reflect on her experience with us so we could share with our community. Enjoy!
Q: Why did you choose this placement?
A: I initially chose this placement primarily because I love working with children and youth, and also because I thought it would be a really unique opportunity. The idea of an occupational therapist (or any healthcare professional for that matter) working with kids in a dance studio instead of a clinic or hospital setting seemed very exciting to me, and I was intrigued to learn more about what this might look like. I generally like routine and was a bit hesitant to step so far out of my comfort zone in a setting where every day would be different from the last, but looking back I’m so glad I did. I had the opportunity to try so much, and every day of my placement felt more like an adventure than a “day at the office”.
Q: What were some of the things you did while on placement?
A: During my placement I was able to observe (and participate) in a variety of classes from tots to teens. Because of the timing of my placement I was also lucky enough to also attend end of year recitals. I was blown away by the talent and courage of all the dancers (those are some very bright lights on that stage!). I had the opportunity to help with volunteer training, take part in some of the new dancer registration, attend a few lectures at the Halton Down Syndrome Conference, and participate in NBS Sharing Dance Day. One of the highlights of my placement was the First International Symposium for Dance and Well-Being where I was able to learn about all of the newest research being done about the benefits of dance and movement on health – it is so much more than just physical exercise! The best part of my placement was being part of such a wonderful community of people; Mallory and Jade were amazing role models, the instructors and volunteers were so kind and helpful, the parents were open and great advocates, and the dancers were so welcoming.
Q: What was most rewarding?
A: The most rewarding part of this placement for me was validating the importance of leisure. One of the things that often came up was the difference between “health promotion” and “illness demolition” and that really struck a chord with me. Well-being is SO much more than the absence of sickness, despite what the healthcare system may sometimes seem to suggest. Additionally, it was incredible to see how empowered the dancers were by being a part of something as positive as the Dance Ability Movement, and how so many built friendships through their mutual identities of being a dancer.
Q: What was most challenging?
A: Part of the challenge of this setting is being constantly on the go, you need to be very organized and open to meeting a ton of new people while building rapport quickly. The real challenge though is advocating for the value of leisure and programs like this one in a system that so often promotes more biomedical interventions. Although the research is promising and becoming more plentiful I think this will be one of the ongoing challenges for occupational therapists throughout my lifetime.
Q: What advice would you have for other student OT’s considering a placement or volunteer opportunity with us?
A: My advice for incoming students or volunteers is to ask lots of questions, it’s okay not to know everything! One thing I took away from this placement is that even for “seasoned” occupational therapists, learning is still a process. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and don’t give up even if your first few strategies don’t work as planned. Your clients are always changing and growing and something that worked last week might not work this week. Don’t give up, you have the tools to figure it out and the best people to brainstorm with.
Families are the best resources. You can have all the training in the world and still not know your client better than their caregivers. They have so much to offer and keepingthe lines of communication open is crucial in delivering great programming and client centred care.
And finally, be open minded. You don’t need any formal training to be a “dancer”. I came into this placement apologetic that I didn’t have any rhythm and wasn’t even flexible enough to touch my toes, and guess what? Leaving this placement I am still not going to be offered a spot on So You Think You Can Dance. But the kids don’t care if you can plie or even follow a beat. They encouraged me to move my body freely, be a little goofy, and have confidence in myself both in the studio and in life in general. And really, what more could you want in a placement?
Ps: After six weeks I can now, in fact, touch my toes.
Thanks Melissa for your contributions and sharing your experience with us! -Mallory