As a Penn MPH student, I wondered how Penn researchers could strengthen their relationship with West Philadelphians. Working with Dance for Health in the spring enabled me to give back to the research community through social dance classes. Dance for Health (DFH), a partnership between the Penn Memory Center and Ralston House, creates a space for older adults in Philadelphia to get active through dance and preserve their cognitive health.
In the beginning, I was unsure if I would take part in learning the dance routines. I had never taken a line dancing class; but when the music started, it felt natural to join in. Dancing with DFH participants every Saturday helped me connect with them. Each time I started dancing on the wrong foot or turned left instead of right, I was encouraged to keep going by the DFH participants’ warm smiles.
As the weeks progressed, I noticed the dance instructors were not giving us as many instructions as they used to. I realized then that the instructors were testing participants’ memories of the choreography. I also looked forward to strengthening my relationship with DFH participants each Saturday and learned that they enjoyed the social aspect of the program as well. The older adults told me they appreciated that DFH provided them with a break from their usual routine and a chance to connect with others. Some participants brought friends or family members to class while others enjoyed making new friends and bonding over shared experiences between dances.
Interestingly enough, previous research suggests a positive correlation between social interaction and health. Working with DFH, I was able to witness firsthand how social dance can bring you joy and health.
Danielle Kennedy was a 2017-2018 Penn Memory Center intern.