Local dance foundation shines spotlight on people with special needs
MANILA, Philippines – Dancing is often seen as a strenuous sport, only suited for able-bodied people who can memorize different choreographies while focusing on coordination and balance.
The Heart at Play Foundation (THP), a local organization that promotes dance movement therapy or DMT to People with Special Needs (PWSNs), is determined to break stigmas and stereotypes.
“Because of THP, no one thinks otherwise of my daughter, Charmel Canceran. There is no stigma against her there,” Eric Canceran said, referring to his 10-year-old daughter who was diagnosed with autism at an early age.
Every Saturday, Charmel, along with her parents, Eric and Heidi, travels from Novaliches City to attend THP’s free dance therapy sessions.
“Charmel’s improvement, after attending THP dance classes, was remarkable. At first, she couldn’t speak or communicate with anyone, because she wasn’t a social person. Because she had the chance to meet and interact with people like her, she became more sociable,” Heidi Canceran said.
“My mother, Ana Rivera, started this advocacy in 2011,” said Patricia Rivera, the co-founder and corporate secretary of THP. Ana is a Special Education (SPED) graduate who finds fulfillment in teaching the art of dance to PWSNs.
Rivera said that Ana drew inspiration from the dance movement therapy methods in the States, where she went for her SPED practicum. Ana then decided to create a local foundation that employed pioneer DMT methods that merged fundamental patterns of movement, dance, and imaginative play.
“At present, we are now an NGO that provides free dance movement therapy for marginalized people with special needs. [Our dance classes] cater to individuals with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] and other developmental disabilities,” Rivera said.
Through its weekly Saturday dance classes at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Quezon City, the THP promotes holistic healing, independent living, and a supportive community for PWSNs.
Just recently, 30 beneficiaries of the THP, along with their parents, performed at the Groove Central Hiphop concert at the AFP Theater in Camp Aguinaldo last June 10. Their 3-minute dance number received a standing ovation from the audience.
“My son can now express his emotions through dancing,” Maria Teresa Noriega, from Novaliches City, told Rappler.
Noriega’s 20-year-old son, Richard, was diagnosed with autism at a young age.
Because of the efforts of the THP, Noriega noticed that Richard became sociable with his peers by way of text.
“He also has a speech problem, but [being part of THP] gave him a chance to socialize with his peers through text messaging. Richard now communicates with his classmates through text,” Noriega smiled.
For Noriega, Richard looks forward to every THP session.
“It won’t be complete without the THP. He always reminds his classmates to ‘Don’t forget to attend the THP every Saturday,’” she said, emphasizing that Richard had found a second family in the foundation.
Richard, who was clad in a yellow suit, joined his peers at the concert. Performing alongside Richard was Charmel Canceran and Jake Eden Sabater, who were both clad in ruffled purple dresses.
Jake Eden is a 20-year-old adult who was diagnosed with Global Development Delay (GDD) Syndrome. She was accompanied by her mother Edna at the concert. Both mother and daughter traveled from Quezon City to attend the event.
“My daughter, Jake Eden, developed confidence in herself because of the THP program. At first, she couldn’t walk on her own, and she would often be hot-headed. Now, she can socialize with her peers, and walk on her own,” Edna said.
“Our DMT merges the artistic element of dance and special education principles. The THP pioneers in an antecedent-behavioral-consequence intervention tool called the 'Rope of Hope',” Patricia Rivera said.
“The Rope of Hope works like this: you make a PWSN hold a rope and make two able-bodied people flank him/her on each side. After that, the instructor will give directions and the 3 of them are supposed to follow it. Even if a PWSN is not able to follow the movements, you can capture their attention by giving them a rope,” Rivera explained.
According to Rivera, the rope is an antecedent that spurs a certain focused behavior from the PWSNs. “With that antecedent and behavior, the PWSNs are now able to dance, and move to the music,” Rivera said. The Rope of Hope is one of the trademark tools of the THP.
Asked about the hurdles in handling the THP, Rivera said that elevating the discourse about PWSNs and raising funds for the foundation were one of the challenges.
“We need to educate [society] on how to be more inclusive through awareness campaigns. Because our organization isn’t well-known yet, it’s hard to get support for it,” Rivera explained. (READ: Sunflower farm in Quezon plants seeds of hope for PWDs)
Events like annual fundraising concerts help in the weekly operations of the THP, but Rivera hopes for more support, and awareness from the Filipino community. – Rappler.com
Angelica Yang is a BA Journalism student at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. She is a Rappler intern.