dancers in silhouette against the sunset

“I’m going to see the person, not the patient.”

“Really observe.”

“Don’t pre-judge.”

“Keeping their potential alive.”

These are some of the promises nursing students from a local community college program made about how they would caretake after joining MovingWisdom in the project MovingWisdom/HiddenLives. The MW/HL project focused on enhancing healthcare education by teaching emerging medical professionals how to use movement, music and storytelling with elders in healthcare facilities to sharpen cognition, activate motion, and engage socially.

After orientation sessions, nursing students chose to participate in further workshops with MovingWisdom. After working together, the students signed up to co-lead workshops in storytelling and movement with me in 3 different healthcare centers (aka nursing homes). Each workshop followed a similar pattern – warm-up, dancing, storytelling, dancing again, and a wrap-up. After each workshop, I met with the students to see what they thought of what they just did. I asked them what they got out of it, why it mattered, and what they planned to do with this new information. We also talked about what didn’t work, but the focus they had was on the value they saw in the work we did, and specifically on what they saw happen in the room.

For instance, one woman, I’ll call Flo (pseudonym), walked stiffly into the room one day, with the help of an assistant. She looked fragile. By the end of the workshop, Flo stood up, danced with abandon, and cried out “Follow me!” She was dancing, smiling, and for those 5 minutes toward the end of the session was a very different person than when she came into the room.
There were stories like this, and those less dramatic, but the students’ words were what struck me the most. They reminded me of why I dance, and why playing together with rhythm, in partnership with others, and sharing from the particular intimacy that this kind of art-play offers is critical to a healthier life.

What did the students say? These are just some of the responses…

What was important about the experience (what):
“Feeling seen and heard.”


“From chronic illness to joy.”

Why did they think this important (so what):

“Supporting each other – social network.”

“Spending time with a patient has an impact.”

“Emotional health is health.”

“They didn’t think they could do it, but they could!”

And what will they do in their career with this information (now what):

“I’m not going to see the patient as a 7-12-7 again.” (7-12-7 are medication times)

“I’m going to see the person not the patient.”

“I’m going to spend more time with my patients, to really learn who they are.”

“To not be task-oriented but focus on the person.”

There were many more responses in this same vein. The students learned that no matter how much they knew about giving shots, administering medication, or reading vital signs, being with their patients in moving, fun, and engaging ways created a relationship of care that they saw as just as, if not even at times more so, vital and life-enhancing.

As one young nurse-to-be said, “This is the root of healthcare.”