Geschichten um den Modernen Tanz von Bridget Quinn Petzold

Dancing makes you feel better


Dance teacher, yoga teacher, dance teacher for people with Parkinson’s disease

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I have been teaching dance for 40 years. My experience spans level, age, and ability. I have taught young children as young as 2, and adults as old as 94. I work with people with neurodegenerative problems and dementia. I work with non-dancers, as well as professional dancers. I teach dance classes for actors. I have come to realize that, although my medium is dance, what I actually give people is a way into their bodies, a way into their feelings, a way toward self-insight. Of course, dance isn’t the only medium to achieve these outcomes. People feel better many different ways, and dance is definitely one of those ways. As I continually search for ways in to reach a student, I have found some powerful tools that seem to be universally applicable. These tools help the student gain access to greater range of movement, better memory of movement sequences, better performance quality, and a deep sense of well-being and meaningful connection to others. I contend that this contributes to a better quality of life overall. Furthermore, I contend that dance taught this way is a vital public service in a time when isolation and separation pervade the collective societal consciousness.

These tools are deceptively simple, but it takes a sensitive mind and heart to execute them effectively.

I use story and imagination to elicit memories and scenarios for the student. I have observed access to greater range of movement for the students when they can connect movement to a memory, a picture, a situation, a story. This is especially effective when working with older people and people with dementia. When students immerse themselves in the story, a better performance quality is evident, observable primarily in the face. In addition, if the movement is well-integrated into the story, the student tends to remember movement sequences better, which fosters memory in movement, a powerful mind-body integrative approach.

If the story or memory resonate with the student, that movement becomes meaningful. Infusing movement with meaning is the second tool I use. I give the student a reason for greater extension or a higher reach. I allow students to embody something meaningful to them.

Music is a powerful way in. Music ties all other elements together. I choose my music carefully, often from each students’ generation. Just this one element is sometimes enough to get through to a student. I coordinate movement with the style, tempo, and text of each piece of music. Although time-consuming, the result proves its efficacy. I encourage dance teachers to take time to choose their music wisely.

The more senses one can activate and connect to movement, the greater the outcome. In my experience, the tools I have listed here are the most universally effective across level, age, and ability. They activate both mind (through story, imagination, and meaning-making) and body (through the senses of sight, hearing, and touch, and moving the body in unusual ways).

Finally, we can take this one step further. Students finish dance classes feeling lighter and at ease. Their minds have been flexed, their bodies stretched. They have moved in unison with their fellow dancer. This feeling of connection they carry with them.

But wait, one last scene: the student performs on stage and experiences with the audience the reflexive power of human connection. The dancer projects the story and the meaning into the audience, and the audience reflects this back to the dancer. This is the most powerful feedback and most mutually beneficial outcome.

It’s polishing the mirror. You project your most beautiful self onto the other, which causes the other to project their most beautiful self back onto you, which causes you to smile wider, sit straighter, stand taller, feel better.

Dancing makes you feel better.


Bridget Quinn Petzold
Dance teacher, yoga teacher, dance teacher for people with Parkinson’s disease

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