Saturday, August 13, 2022

The Dancer who was Raised as a Dog

In the book, "The Boy who was Raised as a Dog,"
I learned more about the neurological effects of neglect on children's brains as seen by MRI's.  I think it has an underlying message for dancers.

The author found that one of the ways to help neglected and abused children was through rhythm and music therapy.  I wonder how many of us are finding tango as a way to help us better live in the world.  Could it be?  Read on.

The book made me wonder how many of us were raised as a dog--if not by parents then perhaps years of often neglectful and abusive education.  We learn to sit in rows and raise our paw before barking out what we hope is the right answer.  In some countries now or in earlier times, many of us "dogs" have been beaten for getting answers wrong or misbehaving.  We often are unsafe at school or in our dangerous neighborhoods.  Also, certain cultures wean us from dancing and touching and playing.  Howling (singing) is often forbidden or shamed for those of us raised as a dog.  

Dr. Bruce Perry dedicated his life to helping neglected and abused children. He took MRI pictures of their brains.  Areas of their limbic brain, the emotional center of the brain, were missing or underdeveloped.  Spinal fluid filled in the space where brain matter should have been.  As a result, some children grow up to have no feelings of remorse and can be very dangerous sociopaths as teens or adults.  As a dancer and therapist, I was fascinated by therapies that work for neglected children.  Dr. Bruce Perry, came up with several techniques, or treatment modalities to help these neglected children develop their brains to have a more fulfilling life.   Behavioralists and psychotherapists were against his ideas at first. Their therapies, however, don't work.  Perry's do.

Some of these may speak to your experience.  How has tango changed your life, and why are you drawn to tango?

Is tango your "therapy" to deal with the past and present in your life?

I can say "yes" to these questions for myself.   Perhaps I was not truly neglected, but I really love the nearness of tango, the social interaction, the music, and touch.  As a baby I was the last of six children.  Especially when my siblings were off to school, perhaps I was a bit lonely and neglected with a very busy mother and a distant father who was often on the road as a bus driver. I remember being three years only and discovering parts of the neighborhood that were around 300 meters away.  That was just too far for an urban neighborhood.  Being so far away from home as a three-year-old child would have been a case of neglect with today's standards.  I was alone when I went out and discovered the world like this.  So perhaps I have been drawn to a few things that Dr. Perry uses for neglected and stimuli-seeking children, 

Let me present some of the treatment modalities that make huge differences for children who may have grown up in an orphanage, for example:

  • Connection with other peers in spite of serious by parents or caregivers. 
    Do we seek social interaction around tango to help fill that gap we feel?  Children who had this connection with siblings who even lived in cages with other children have the best chance to lead a normal life compared to children who were raised absolutely alone.  Dr. Perry watched how some of these little patients developed their own language to communicate with other children.  That helped, but he had a lot to do to help them.

  • Quality time and touch.  
    Perhaps you have heard of "failure to thrive."  I once worked with a child and her parents right now.  The mother would binge on alcohol and have blackouts.  The child would cry and cry during mom's inebriated "vacations."  Failure to thrive is a term that pediatricians and therapists use to describe a child who is neglected can even die.  My little patient had a skull size that was larger than her peers at birth, but at around the 9-month mark, her cranial size was alarmingly under her peers.  She eventually gained weight.  Her father was allowed to stay home from work to make sure that his wife was not drinking and to give the baby a lot more stimuli. Babies need skin on skin, and need to be rocked.  They need the rhythm of language and music even if they don't understand.    Dr. Perry writes:  "Preemies who received ... gentle massage went home from the hospital almost a week earlier on average.  In older children and adults massage has also been found to lower blood pressure, fight depression, and cut stress by reducing the number of stress hormones released by the brain." We all have a little child inside of us who needs the same things babies need.
  • Rhythm therapy. 
    Are you taking a musicality class?   Consider that therapy.  Even elephants, seals, monkeys, and birds can learn to walk on the beat.  Musicality shows you to choose different lines to dance--the "compass" (basic beat), the bass line, the strings, or the melody. Perry says, "It may seem odd, but rhythm is extraordinarily important.  If our bodies cannot keep the most fundamental rhythm of life--the heartbeat--we cannot survive. . . . Numerous hormones are rhythmically regulated as well. . . . The brain doesn't just keep one beat: it has many drums, which must all synchronize not only with the patters of the day and night. . . . Disturbances of the brain's rhythm-keeping regions are often causes of depression and other psychiatric disorders."  Dr. Perry noted that the awkward gait of a child disappears.  They have a better rhythm in conversation--although they can have really good intellectual and cognitive skills, they learn to be less odd, less nerdy.  

I wonder if we are all a bit neglected in some way--maybe it was by our parents, or by the lack of siblings or friends, or the cold culture we grew up in with its fear of human touch, or more recently, the phobia of illness via touch,   But now as adults, we should make up for any neglect by taking care of ourselves in safe ways.  What I am suggesting here is what works for the neglected child within: Human touch and rhythm.

If you have been reading my blog, you may have often wondered if I overstate the importance of therapeutic dance in your life.  After reading Perry's book, "The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog," I think that on the contrary:  I have greatly underestimated the importance of therapeutic dance for 14 years of writing this blog. 

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