Former Ballerina with Dementia Gracefully Comes Alive to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake

According to dance/movement therapist Erica Hornthal, “dance/movement therapy operates on the premise that our life experiences are held in the body, and that through the use of movement, memories and emotions can be recalled and re-experienced despite cognitive, psychological, or physical impairment.” The video above of former dancer Marta C. González shows in effect how music might activate those muscle memories, as a recording of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake sends Ms. González, a former ballet dancer, into an elegant reverie when she had been barely responsive moments before.

The video was reportedly taken in Valencia, Spain in 2019 and “recently shared by the Asociación Música para Despertar, a Spanish organization that promotes music therapy for those afflicted by memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,” writes Anastasia Tsioulcas at NPR. It has since been shared by celebrities and noncelebrities around the world, an “undoubtedly moving and uplifting” scene that “speaks to the power of music and dance for those suffering from memory loss.”

Many such videos have made headlines, illustrating the findings of neuroscience with moving stories of recovered memory, if only for a brief, shining instant, in the presence of music. The González video doesn’t just warm hearts, however; it also serves as a cautionary tale about sharing viral videos without doing diligence. As Tsioulcas reports, “Alastair Maccaulay, a prominent dance critic formerly with The New York Times, has been chasing González’s history and posting his findings on Instagram.” His most recent post possibly identifies Ms. González as a dancer from Cuba, but the details are murky.

The video’s text identifies her as the prima ballerina of the “New York Ballet” in the 1960s, yet “there is no such known company and the New York City Ballet does not list anyone by that name as one of its alumni.” To complicate the mystery of her identity even further, Macauley says the clips that appear to show a young Marta González, who passed away in 2019, are actually “a former prima ballerina from Russia’s Mariinsky Ballet, Uliana Lopatkina.” So who was Marta C. González? Surely someone will identify her, if she was a prominent ballet dancer. But no matter her personal history, Tchaikovsky “clearly evoked a strong, truly visceral response,” as well as a gracefully muscular one.

via Kottke

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness

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