Deerfield-based North Shore Dance Therapy delivers ‘amazing’ results
Erica Hornthal holds her collection of news articles about dementia and Alzheimer's disease. The licensed clinical professional counselor offers dance therapy through her Deerfield-based North Shore Dance Therapy. | Photo by Jackie Pilossoph
North Shore Dance Therapy
Owner: Erica Hornthal
Office: 1516 Greenwood Ave., Deerfield
Phone: (847) 848-0697
Updated: February 4, 2013 6:14AM
DEERFIELD — When Chauncey Whitaker saw his mother dancing to the music in church, it sparked an idea he thought might help her condition.
“The minute the music started, she was transformed,” said Whitaker of his 72 year-old mom, Elma Jean, who was diagnosed several years ago with dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. “It clearly demonstrated the mind-body connection.”
Whitaker did an Internet search with the terms “dementia and dancing,” and discovered dance movement therapy, which is a unique form of therapy that uses music and movement to promote emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of individuals, according to the American Dance Therapy Association.
In his search, Whitaker also found North Shore Dance Therapy, specifically Erica Hornthal, a Deerfield-based Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor whose practice is dedicated to dance therapy for patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
“There is so much research that shows creative arts having a positive impact on people with dementia,” said Hornthal, who earned a masters degree in dance movement therapy and counseling from Columbia College. “It taps into areas of the brain that are not directly affected by the dementia.”
Hornthal, who also worked in long-term care and in several senior living facilities before starting her practice, takes her services to clients’ homes, adult day care centers and nursing home facilities to provide one-hour individual, group, family and couples movement therapy sessions.
“You don’t have to be a dancer to engage in dance therapy, but what happens is, the music and the movement together enhances the patient’s ability to communicate,” she said. “It enhances the mood and the ability to engage more with the community.”
Whitaker explained that his mother responds to James Brown’s “Living in America,” the song “I Am Woman” and certain gospel music.
“The therapy has a direct impact on my mother’s level of involvement and expression,” said Whitaker, adding that his mom has been seeing Hornthal for a little over a year.
Hornthal has been dancing since she was three years old, and started out as a dance major in college. It was when she began taking courses in psychology that she discovered her passion for dance therapy.
“One of my professors said to me, ‘You love psychology and you love dance, so have you thought about a career in dance therapy?’ That’s when I knew I was going to do this,” she said.
According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in people over 65, and represents about 60 percent of all dementias. There are an estimated 5.1 million Americans who may be affected with Alzheimer’s.
Hornthal said the goal of dance therapy is to have a connection, and make the patient feel supported, because seniors can often feel isolated and depressed, and their self-esteem starts to decrease.
“You go into nursing homes and people are just sleeping because no one is engaging them and they get pushed aside, and I refuse to accept that,” she said, “At the end of a session, I’ve had patients say to me, ‘I feel alive,’ and ‘I’m happy.’”
Whitaker reported that his mother’s ability to articulate an opinion has clearly increased as a result of dance therapy.
“She has evolved beyond the one word answer,” he said. “She’s developing new neural pathways to have the ability to speak, and she travels freely in the city, goes to museums and the Art Institute, and Navy Pier. She’s all over the place and it’s amazing.”
Hornthal still dances, in fact, she takes classes whenever time permits, and performs occasionally at Columbia College.
“Dance is just a feeling,” she said. “When I’m dancing I can express myself in a way that comes from the soul. It’s the easiest form of expression.”