Medical Clowning and Greek Gods

Yesterday on the Alzheimer’s unit, Medical Clown Michelle Musser broke out a well-rehearsed Charleston complete with vintage moves and music.  She then ‘taught’ her partner, Calvin Kai Ku, the dance, which got some of the residents and their care-givers to join in.  We’ve been using music of specific eras and styles to engage people with dementia; dance works in the same way.

In “Dancing in the Streets, a History of Collective Joy”, the great writer Barbara Ehrenreich gives dance-as-healing historical context and links us to the Greek god Dionysus:

“Classicist Walter Burkert mentions the existence, in ancient and – earlier than that – archaic Greece, of itinerant charismatics, men who traveled from place to place, serving as healers, priest, and seers.  As early as the fifth century BCE, men called orpheotelestae traveled through Greece offering to cure illness, including mental ones, by dancing around the sick person, “not infrequently in the form of a ring dance.” …the itinerant charismatic cured by drawing the afflicted into ecstatic dances – which may well have been effective in the case of psychosomatic and mental illnesses – suggesting that he was a musician as well as a dancer and healer…These itinerant musicians and masters of ecstatic ritual may well have been the prototype for the god Dionysus.”