Disabled teens express feelings through dance Body language: Dance therapist helps youths learn to communicate emotions through movement.

February 06, 1996|By Vikki Valentine | Vikki Valentine,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Eighteen-year-old Amy Fanelli was born with a language disorder that makes verbal communication a frustrating task -- but with the help of a dance and movement class, she's found a way to express her feelings.

East Columbia dance movement therapist Kathryn Putnam Yarborough said the classes she teaches through the Howard County Department of Parks and Recreation can help Ms. Fanelli move toward connecting her feelings with the words to express them.

In her class for disabled teens, Ms. Putnam Yarborough of the Village of Kings Contrivance helps her students discover that by using their bodies, they can express emotions they otherwise have trouble communicating because of their disabilities.

"Knowing your body is one of the first things as infants we have, knowing the world through our bodies," said Ms. Putnam Yarborough "And a lot of us, along the way, lose that sense. Getting back into that can create increased self-esteem and make you healthier."

A form of psychotherapy, dance movement therapy began in the 1940s as an alternative to conventional verbal therapy. It is one of several creative art therapies, such as painting and music, that provide another avenue of healing when words aren't accessible to a client or can't reflect the emotional intensity of a person's experience.

Although dance movement therapy still isn't a widely accepted form of therapy, it is being better understood as more people in the medical field realize the intrinsic connection between mind and body, Ms. Putnam Yarborough said.

When the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks offered the eight-week class in in November, it was the first time Ms. Putnam Yarborough taught it. But she started another eight- week session for people ages 13 to 21 last month.

The class of disabled youths is only one of the several areas of dance movement therapy in which Ms. Putnam Yarborough, 34, works. She also interns at St. Elizabeth's mental hospital in Washington and teaches a dance movement class for adults in Beltsville. She's working toward a master's degree in dance movement therapy.

And this spring, Ms. Putnam Yarborough will represent dance movement therapy students at the American Dance Movement Therapy Association board meeting in Columbia. The association is based in Columbia and boasts 1,200 members.

Ms. Putnam Yarborough got involved in what she calls the human awareness business after receiving an master of fine arts in dance at age 24 and became interested in using dance to make healthy people healthier. Then, "what happened was I grew up a little bit and I wanted to work with people who needed more help than the average person."

She took a class in dance movement therapy, and said, "It was like, 'I'm coming home.' "

"A lot comes up when you're moving. You find out a lot about yourself," Ms. Putnam Yarborough said.

For the five teen-agers in Ms. Putnam Yarborough's first Columbia class, the benefit was expanding and exploring how their body parts -- shoulders, arms, fingers -- individually moved. The teen-agers moved to different styles of music, incorporating toy balls and other exercise equipment into their movements.

"They were getting familiar with their own bodies and moving rhythmically with the movements and each other," Ms. Putnam Yarborough said.

As the value of the therapy is recognized, "people will give this a chance instead of just popping a pill to change how we feel on a body level," she said.

And through movement Amy Fanelli can communicate what she is feeling on the inside to those around her.

"If she has a bad day, she can't come home from school and say, 'I'm really upset because someone made fun of me,' " said her mother, Mary Lou Fanelli. With Ms. Putnam Yarborough's help though, "You're allowing her to express herself through dance."

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