The Day Ecumen Prairie Lodge Became a Dance Hall

A spirited dance troupe recently transformed Ecumen Prairie Lodge in Brooklyn Center into a makeshift dance hall full of smiles, memories and movement. 

A wave of energy moves through the room. In short order, a spirited dance troupe transforms Ecumen Prairie Lodge in Brooklyn Center into a makeshift dance hall full of smiles, memories and movement. Songs of the 30s, 40s and 50s transport the residents and urge them to dance.

Many have come with anticipation but limited mobility.  Some are in wheelchairs, but this will not be a problem. They will “chair dance.” 

“You don’t have to dance — just move,” says Maria Genné, the Director of Kairos Alive!, a dance company with expertise working with older adults. She and her colleagues are here under an $18,800 Minnesota State Arts Board Grant to promote dance, storytelling and music to help residents connect, move and share experiences.

The Carluster Krumblebee Orchestra, a four-member jazz band, kicks off with “On the Sunnyside of the Street” as Maria and her team move around the room seamlessly encouraging participation. They know everyone by name because they have been conducting “Dancing Heart” sessions here for several weeks. Today’s “Dance Hall” is a larger intergenerational community celebration designed for all ages and abilities to have fun together. Several Ecumen employees have brought their children.

Kairos Alive!’s programming is an evidence-based approach. A University of Minnesota research study showed the program has a positive impact on physical health, as well as cognitive and psychosocial functioning. It engages older adults, including those with mid-to-late stage Alzheimer’s, in dance and storytelling. Stimulated by movement and music, residents are able to share experiences and memories.

Ecumen and Kairos Alive! have been working together at several Ecumen sites in recent years under the umbrella of a partnership with ArtSage, a Minnesota nonprofit that connects artists and the arts with aging.  ArtSage offers training programs, consulting services and other resources for artists and organizations who want to bring high-quality art experiences to older adults.

Today at Ecumen Prairie Lodge residents clearly connect with the Kairos experience, regardless of mobility or memory issues.  “This is another way to care for people,” Maria says. “They feel safe and connected.”

Nicholas Pawlowski, a Kairos teaching artist, bonds with the audience by ad libbing lyrics to classic songs, weaving in the biographies of the residents around the room.  During a rest period, he hands the microphone to Ron, a musically inclined resident who belts out “Ring of Fire.”  And Evelyn joins in on “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.”

Throughout the session, the five-member Kairos team of teaching artists gently encourage residents to participate and maybe do just a little more than they think they can. The program includes a wide range of music and dances from waltz to jitterbug.

After more than an hour of dancing, it’s time to adjourn for a picnic.  “Those Were the Days My Friend” is the closing number.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.