Natasha Goldstein-Levitas is a Philadelphia-based dance/movement therapist with over 16 years of experience working with older adults across various cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. She facilitates groups at several area senior centers, residential case- and outpatient-based programs that are specifically tailored to the needs of high-functioning seniors, as well as those suffering from degenerative conditions such as dementia. Goldstein-Levitas has presented at conferences hosted by the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and her research article, “Dance/Movement Therapy and Sensory Stimulation: A Holistic Approach to Dementia Care”, was recently published in the American Journal of Dance Therapy.
You’ve been working with seniors in several different capacities. How did you start your work with older adults?
During my master’s degree training in dance therapy, you choose a population to work with. I chose older adults and I’ve just kept choosing them. It’s become part of my heart.
What happens in a typical session?
I start by putting on music from the 1940s and ‘50s. The session is very organic, and it’s about connecting with the people in whatever way they can. If they can make eye contact or tap their toes, that’s where they are. I ask questions that will elicit memories, like, “Who is singing this song?” and they begin to reminisce and come alive. There’s a lot of improvisation and playfulness, and through the movement and the laughter we are helping them to discharge loss, physical pain and anxiety. I always use the Sam Cooke song “Shake”, and I’ll ask, “What can we shake off today?” And they’ll answer me, “Our problems, our worries, our arthritis!”
You are a reiki practitioner, too. How do you bring touch, breath and mindfulness into your work?
I’ve been practicing reiki for over 10 years. I use those skills—touch and attunement—every day. Just touching someone on the shoulder in the right way when they are agitated can make shifts happen. I also incorporate breathing exercises throughout the session. It helps to ground and center us, particularly those that are cognitively impaired. And we do mindfulness practice using sensory items. We use scented moisturizers and focus on how it feels on our hands and how it smells. We focus just on those sensations for a moment.
How have things changed in the senior living community since you started 16 years ago?
Things are definitely changing. When I started, there were very few, if any, groups like the ones I am facilitating. Now, there is more receptivity to holistic treatments and a recognition of how these simple, low-cost practices can have a measurable impact on seniors’ quality of life. I find that people are most receptive when they’ve experienced it themselves. When they come to sit in on my sessions they can see the difference in people when they come in compared to how they are when they leave—they are lighter and less agitated. There’s such an urgent need for more of these programs for this quickly growing population, and it’s exciting to see the culture of eldercare becoming more inclusive of these modalities.
For more information, visit NatashaGoldstein.com.