The Big Muddy Dance Company exists to invigorate life through dance. Through our Senior Embrace program, we do just that. Our aim in this program is to bring high quality entertaining dance performances to those that may not be able to travel to a theatre to experience this level of talent.

Background and History of Senior Embrace

The Big Muddy Dance Company kicked off its senior citizen outreach program in 2012. In its conception, the program included performances for retirement homes, later adding hands-on movement workshops for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and performances to help raise awareness for organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association and the Maturity and its Muse Festival. After what started as a few small ways to give back to the community, the company was staggered by the positive impact our performances were having on our audiences. This inspired the development of The Big Muddy Dance Company’s Senior Embrace program with the objective to consistently bring high quality dance experiences to our senior community.

The Big Muddy completed its first Senior Embrace tour beyond St. Louis in the 2014-15 Season called the “Route 66 Tour”, in partnership with AmeriCare Senior Living. The company traveled to 7 facilities throughout Missouri and Illinois to honor a wider senior community with dance. For each of the past four consecutive seasons The Big Muddy has visited 25-30 retirement home locations around the area. A total of more than 45 retirement homes have experienced the Senior Embrace program in St. Louis city and county, St. Peters, Fairview Heights, Rolla, Cuba, Sullivan, Herman, St. Charles, Troy, Highland, and O’Fallon.


What is Senior Embrace?

Senior Embrace is made up of two components: a performance program and a hands-on movement workshop.The company aims to visit 30 retirement homes in the St. Louis area and beyond each season with the performance program, and 3 locations with the workshop component.

Performance Program: The Big Muddy is dedicated to presenting the highest quality dance performance at all times, which includes Senior Embrace performances. The Senior Embrace repertoire is hand-selected by Artistic Director Brian Enos from the company’s full repertory archives, and all of which has been performed on the stage. The repertoire tends to reflect music, costumes, and movement styles that trigger memories of earlier years for the senior generation, and those which the audience members will recognize and appreciate.

The company dancers present a 35-45 minute performance in the retirement home’s communal area, and talk to the residents a bit about the company. After the show, the dancers spend about 15 minutes visiting with the residents and exchanging stories and experiences. Feedback from staff, families, and seniors show that the performances and conversations with the dancers leave the residents with a great sense of contentment and excitement, and the feeling continues several days/weeks after the experience. Qualitative evaluations have shown improvements in mood and recollection of older memories, closer connections between seniors and their caregivers, and increased vigor in movement.

Workshop Program: After several years of planning and research, The Big Muddy is proud to announce the implementation season of its hands-on movement workshop component of Senior Embrace. A pilot program was conducted at the Alzheimer’s Association’s Care & Conquer Conference in 2013, and then the program was reformed and reconducted at Garden View Care Center in Chesterfield in December 2017. The program was filmed with volunteers in April 2018 with the objective of obtaining footage for research approval. With a dedicated research team of specialists in the fields of gerontology, nursing, senior care and programming, The Big Muddy is planning to conduct a research study on the effects of dance and movement on seniors with early stage Alzheimer’s Disease, and to report its findings for the scientific field to utilize moving forward.

Some research has been implemented on the effects of music, visual art, and theater on the brain but dance has not yet been fully explored. Since dance and choreography are expressed through all three learning channels (auditory, visual, and kinesthetic), it seems logical that it would have success in communicating exercises more than programs that only utilize one learning channel at a time. The 4-part workshop program offers some performance by the company and discussion around what the participants see, as well as hands-on exercises and breakout groups to create sequences of movement, rhythm, and sequencing. Layered with emotional expression, the exercises create a vibrant and artistic experience for the participants, and let them see how professional concert dance is created behind the scenes. Each workshop is followed by a training session for retirement home staff members to continue daily movement exercises with their residents and to educate the staff on the importance of music and movement to overall health and quality of life.

Special Thanks to:
* Milta Little, geriatrician and researcher at St. Louis University
* Jean Krampe, Ph.D. of Nursing and movement specialist at St. Louis University
* Zoe Dearing, Educator and Advocate for MC5 Coalition and Alzheimer's Association
* Thomas Mueser, Director of Gerontology at University Missouri- St. Louis (UMSL)
* Amanda Fox, Graduate Student in Gerontology at UMSL
* Timothy Wichmer, Board Secretary
* Brian Enos, Artistic Director
* Erin Prange, Executive Director
* Robert Poe, company dancer
* Dave Toben, Board President
* Kathie Winter, board member and owner of Garden View Care Centers
* Laura Schultz, specialist in adult day services for Cedarhurst Assisted Living

The arts, dance, and cognitive decline:

Dementia and cognitive decline in our older adult population is a growing problem. Creative solutions and treatments are needed to delay clinical onset and to slow the progression of dementia and memory impairment in older adults, helping them to lead as fulfilling lives as possible. The Big Muddy Dance Company's Senior Embrace aims to play a small but important role in this creative intervention to invigorate lives of our senior community and their caregivers.