Two OUWB medical students and a professor are offering proof positive that the show must go on by leading dance classes aimed at improving the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities.

Dance Medicine M.D.: OUWB professor, students deliver rhythmic healing
A collage of images from OUWB's Dance Medicine MD
OUWB medical students Haley Walton (left and right) and Dana Rector (bottom, center) lead online classes as part of Dance Medicine. The picture in top, center show an outdoor class held last autumn.

Two OUWB medical students and a professor are offering proof positive that the show must go on by leading dance classes aimed at improving the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities.

Dance Medicine, M.D. is a volunteer, physician-led organization based in metro Detroit with the purpose of connecting health with the creative process.

Asha Shajahan, M.D., a family physician with Beaumont Health and OUWB assistant professor, is a co-founder and one of the Dance Medicine M.D. instructors.

Additional instructors currently are second-year medical students Hayley Walton and Dana Rector. The program is currently virtual with video sessions posted on YouTube and available to anyone. The hope is to resume in-person sessions as soon as safely possible.

“Dance Medicine definitely has value because it helps the people in the groups that we’re reaching out to, such as cancer survivors, to get up, get moving, and teach them just how fun dance can be,” said Rector.

“It’s a great kind of self-care activity because it’s something that I love to do and it’s really fun,” said Walton.

“It’s also giving back to the community. I feel like I’m getting a lot of things out of this one activity.”

Empowering through dance

Per its mission statement, Dance Medicine M.D. targets “predominantly underserved populations who can’t afford to pay for exercise, have limited access to cultural dance forms, and those striving for social connection. We are a volunteer group of health professionals — medical doctors and those aspiring to be — to create a culture of wellness in all communities regardless of socioeconomic status, zip code, race/ethnicity.”

Additionally, Dance Medicine M.D. hopes to “inspire health care providers to engage with their community to find solutions to health barriers through creativity.”

“We want to empower each person we dance with to find ways to bring joys to health which are vital for the restoration of balance and both the mind and the body,” according to the Dance Medicine M.D. Facebook page.

Shajahan said Dance Medicine M.D. is the direct result of something she noticed in working with communities throughout southeast Michigan.

“People were asking over and over, ‘Can you get us a yoga instructor? Can you get us a Zumba instructor?’” she said. “I thought, ‘Well I can volunteer my time. I can teach Indian dance.’ That’s kind of how it got started.”

The types of dance taught via the program have expanded over the course of the last couple of years. The recent videos posted by Walton and Rector, for example, have focused on salsa and jazz. Going forward, they plan to post new videos every two weeks.

No experience necessary

Prior to COVID-19, classes were primarily taught at Gilda’s Club Lake House in St. Clair Shores. Before going virtual, some of the classes were held in an outdoor setting. (The Dance Medicine M.D. Facebook page encourages those interested in hosting a dance class to reach out. Posts on the page also include when and where classes are held.)

Whether in-person or virtually, Shajahan said Dance Medicine M.D. can be for anyone.

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“You don’t have to have any dancing skills or previous experience,” she said, noting typical sessions can include stretching and a brief discussion on mindfulness.

“My hope is that participants feel energized, rejuvenated, and happy at the end of each dance class,” said Shajahan.

Walton and Rector said they learned of Dance Medicine when Shajahan was teaching a course last year. They said it not only offered an opportunity to give back to the community, but to take a break from their studies to do something they love — dance.

They encourage other OUWB medical students who might want to get involved in teaching to reach out.

“This is definitely one of those situations where more is better,” said Rector. “There’s just so many different types of dance and no one person can know all of them…if other people want to jump in with other forms of dance, that would be fantastic.”

The Dance Medicine M.D. YouTube channel, which includes videos from Rector and Walton, can be found by clicking here.

For more information, contact Andrew Dietderich, marketing writer, OUWB, at adietderich@oakland.edu

To request an interview, visit the OUWB Communications & Marketing webpage.

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