In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

January 23, 2020

Flamenco Dance Offers Unique Form of Healing

By In the Loop

A pilot program offered through Mayo Clinic's Center for Humanities in Medicine in Arizona gives patients the opportunity to heal through the art of flamenco dance.


Bonnie Crosby listens to the music, feels it deeply. She raises her left arm, twists her wrist, and is dancing.

It's not the way Bonnie, a Julliard-trained dancer, used to cross the dance floor. Now, instead of standing erect, she's sitting in a wheelchair in an activity room at Mayo Clinic's Arizona campus. Beside her, Olivia Rojas, a flamenco instructor, leads a group of patients through a series of short dance routines. It's all part of a pilot program for people like Bonnie, who has lost mobility on her right side due to a stroke. "It helps with their coordination, it helps with their habitual and non-habitual movement, and also with their fine motor skills," Rojas tells ABC15.com.

Rojas has been performing for Mayo Clinic patients for years, often inviting audience members to participate. She'd teach them "a series of clapping rhythms" and help them "fumble through the coordination of using castanets, a traditional Spanish instrument." Watching her performances gave doctors an idea. The dance lessons seemed, the doctors thought, ripe for expansion. So they decided "to turn that performance into a flamenco therapy pilot program for stroke, heart attack and transplant patients," the station reports. It would, the good doctors hoped, "lift their patients' spirits while healing their bodies."

Mission accomplished, according to Carol Graziano, a recreation therapist at Mayo Clinic. Patients are "exercising and doing those things that the therapist are working on and they don't even realize they're doing it," she says. "I think that's the magic of the program. It's something fun and takes their mind away from their illness."

The flamenco program is offered through Mayo Clinic's Center for Humanities in Medicine, which works to "enrich the human spirit and to enhance the healing process" by "integrating the arts and other expressions of human culture into the healing environment." The center coordinates music performances, art exhibitions and special events, as well as bedside programs that bring musicians, writers and artists to patients' rooms for performances or special projects. (You can read what the bedside program meant to one patient in this story we shared back in 2018.)

For Bonnie, there's no doubt the flamenco lessons are helping her heal. Listening to Rojas sing and call out instructions, "I can see my arms moving," she tells ABC15. "The singing and the dancing and the arm movements just give you more of an impetus to get well soon. I just think they complement one another. We heal, I believe, more quickly."

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Tags: Carol Graziano, Center for Humanities in Medicine, Health and Wellness, Mayo Clinic in Arizona, Patient Stories

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