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19 APR, 2023
MISSOULA – One magical moment can change the trajectory of a life. Take what happened to Seely Garrett.
As a high student in Helena, Garrett assisted with a dance program for people of all abilities.
“There came a moment where she goes across the stage, and she is supposed to present her right arm and then her left arm,” Garrett said. “And the performance gave her this adrenaline, and she rode her little wheelchair out there, and there came the biggest arm movement we had seen from her in a year.”
Such inspiration fueled Garrett, now a junior at the University of Montana, to become one of the first students to take a new concentration in Pre-Dance Therapy. Like pre-med, this new academic offering preps students for further studies beyond their undergraduate years.
The concentration launched fall semester with five students in the first cohort. The architects of the new offering are two dance faculty members, Professor Heidi Jones Eggert and Assistant Professor Brooklyn Draper of UM’s College of the Arts and Media.
“People need to understand that dance is a healer,” Eggert said. “We have folks who come in and have physical limitations and maybe don’t communicate verbally as easily as the rest of us. But you get the music going and the juices flowing, and suddenly they make eye contact when they wouldn’t make eye contact before. Something just ignites in them. Or their range of movement is really limited, but after 10 to 15 minutes of having fun with music and movement, they are just swinging their arms.”
Like any good dance professor, Eggert speaks with her hands when she talks – especially when excited about a topic. For the past dozen years, she has taught New Visions Dance, a UM therapeutic program that offers dance and creative movement classes to adults with varying developmental, cognitive and physical abilities. The innovative class has existed at UM for the past quarter century, when it was started by the now-retired Karen Kaufman.
Draper said it was dance students helping with programs like News Visions Dance who consistently pushed for the new Pre-Dance Therapy concentration and potential careers as dance movement therapists. She said they just felt so good after the classes and saw how meaningful such programs could be for those involved.
“Those students coming out of those dance classes, they would say, ‘I’m sad that not everyone has this, and I need to take this out into the world,’” Eggert said. “It was amazing to reflect that these 18- to 22-year-olds wanted others to have these opportunities.”
Some of those students, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in dance from UM, went on to graduate school in dance therapy. Draper and Eggert used the guidance and feedback from these recent alumni to help design the new concentration.
Garrett double-majors in both psychology and dance (with a Pre-Dance Therapy concentration) and is still deciding her future path. Among her options are becoming a school psychologist or continuing on to study dance/movement therapy in graduate school.
“I think being a school psychologist would be amazing, because Heidi and Brooklyn, and the other amazing professors in Pre-Dance Therapy have given me something in my toolbox that I can bring out to work with students and kids at any school.”