Dancing in the Dark: A Psychotherapeutic Ballet for the Blind in Mexico
From left to right: Susy, 22, Itary, 15, Rosaura, 17, and Pati, 13, wait to be called out for their first dance in Chiapas, southern Mexico. (Eva Clifford)
In a third-floor dance studio, Lorena Nieva begins teaching her ballet class. Every weekend Nieva, the international coordinator of Psicoballet, travels 80 miles from her home in Puebla to give lessons to a group of girls from Casa Rosa de la Torre, a home for blind children run by nuns. Aged between nine and 22, all of the girls in Nieva’s class are completely blind or partially sighted.
As the music plays, Nieva guides the girls, steering their movements with the sound of her voice and a gentle push with her hand. While the first half of the lesson is spent rehearsing a dance routine, the second half is devoted to improvisation. Breaking from the rigidity and strictness of conventional ballet training, Nieva brings in objects to inspire movement and games, such as fabric sheets, elastic ribbons and chairs.
“Dance cannot be reduced to a single sense,” says Nieva. “It has to come from the whole body – from its limitations, too.” Founded on the belief that dance is ingrained in our biological roots, Psicoballet was created in 1973 by Cuban psychologist Georgina Fariñas Garcia as a psychotherapeutic method to help people with behavioral disorders. Today, it is applied to a wide range of people, including those with developmental disabilities, visual and auditory impairments and the elderly.
Teachers and advocates say Psicoballet, like most forms of dance, improves balance, posture and mobility, while also boosting self-esteem and reducing anxiety and depression. According to estimates, the Cuban dance therapy has benefited over 20,000 people in the last four decades and has spread to 17 nations, including Mexico, where it arrived in 1984.
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