On April 30, the Memory in Rhythm workshop was held in the Event Center at the headquarters of Bridge USA magazine in Torrance.
The organizer was 18-year-old Irvine resident Hana Uehara, currently a 12th-grade student at the Orange County School of Arts. Through her school’s Ballroom Conservatory program, Uehara specializes as a Latin dancer and has been keeping busy as a nationally recognized competitive ballroom dancer.
Uehara is also president of the organization Ballroom for All, through which she is actively engaged in social activities, community outreach and academic research through her artistic interests in ballroom dancing.
In conjunction with BFA, Uehara created Memory in Rhythm, a series of workshops designed to study the effects of ballroom dance therapy on neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.
An enthusiastic group of Japanese American dancers from ages 60 to 93 attended the event in Torrance.
“I became interested in studying the relationship between ballroom dance and neurodegenerative diseases after seeing an article published by Harvard Medical School, explaining the effectiveness of dance to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease,” Uehara explained.
Having witnessed first-hand the effects of Alzheimer’s disease in her grandfather, Uehara hoped that the Memory in Rhythm workshops would improve the quality of life for people living under the same or similar conditions.
Beginning and finishing the class with a memory test, Uehara asked her attendees to recall three words after drawing a clock, then studying the accuracy of the results after an hour of focused ballroom dance therapy.
She noted that the results of the memory test theorized that the neurological benefits of dance stemmed not only from the physical factors but the stimulation of interacting with people, music, and movements.
Nearing the end of the workshop, the increase in voices, laughter, and chatter seemed to fall in line with Uehara’s theory: that dance’s popularity and effectiveness in fighting neurodegenerative diseases seem to have a strong connection to the community created.
“At first, everyone’s energy was quiet and indifferent, but as their bodies began to warm up, so did their personalities and sociability,” she observed.
Kimiko Ishii, an 84-year-old resident of Fountain Valley, started the class with a nervous look, but finished the workshop swaying with a gentle smile and dancing the waltz with a friend.
“The class was impressive!” said David Hribar, 80, of Torrance. “When dancing and seniors come together, it is mostly for the seniors to watch performances, in which everyone falls asleep. So it was really refreshing to be able to be the one dancing today and with my friends.”
Tomoko Miyamoto was among those wearing a broad smile by the end of the event.
“I never realized how important it was to touch someone you don’t know and feel their body temperature and atmosphere directly,” she said. “It stimulates both your body and your brain.”
“The little things brought the biggest smile to my face,” Uehara beamed. “It’s wonderful to see such a vibrant community created through our body’s movements, and I’d like to continue to deepen my research and lead the community in college.”
Photos courtesy Hana Uehara