Jane Weiner, professional dancer and founder of Hope Stone Inc., had much to say about the intersection of dancing and healthy living at McGovern Medical School as part of this month’s presentation of the Arts & Resilience Program – a series of events designed to link the arts and humanities with medicine.
Weiner has over 30 years of experience in dance and has worked in the Houston area since 1996. Her organization, Hope Stone Inc., serves both children and adults in schools and other facilities and teaches music, dance, and theater. Throughout her presentation Wednesday afternoon, she asked audience members to participate in breathing exercises and small dance exercises as she focused on dance through a holistic lens.
Weiner said she comes from a medical family and reminisced about her late father who served as a pediatrician for over 40 years. Her brother is currently a pediatric surgeon and served at a forward operating base in Afghanistan. She remembered growing up around her father’s schedule so that her family could do things like have dinner together, and connected it to the how many professionals feel today.
“This program was created as a positive response to the often high levels of burnout in this field,” Weiner said. “I want to say there is burnout these days in every field. I feel we are overworked – every one of us.”
Connecting dancing with medicine and healing has been a significant part of Weiner’s career, and her talk focused on dance and its relation to neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections. She cited a 21-year study of senior citizens (75 and older) led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, in which researchers studied numerous cognitive activities like reading, writing, dancing, crossword puzzles, and playing musical instruments.
The activity with the most risk reduction for dementia? Dancing. Weiner explained that dancing utilized a number of brain functions at once and even the physical act of moving, being aware of surroundings, and moving out of the way of other dancers, contributed to increases in neural connectivity.
Weiner also shared an anecdote of how she felt dance can help unlock creativity and inspire confidence that can lead to other improvements. While in college, she had been asked to teach a group of third-graders a Christmas dance, and chose a little boy to lead his peers. The boy, who was dyslexic and had difficulties reading, began doing so with more ease following his part in the dance his teacher said.
“I would love to know what the connection there was,” Weiner said.
Weiner said it was an “absolute honor” to speak at McGovern Medical School and emphasized the importance of medical students taking care of themselves through activities like dance and the arts.
“[The medical students] forget about themselves,” Weiner said. “One of the joys of being a dancer is I have to take care of myself, otherwise I wouldn’t have a career, so it’s built right in. I don’t think it’s built right into a lot of careers, especially in medicine.”
The next event in the Arts & Resilience Program will feature playwright and director Ruddy Cravens with a reading of “Wondergirl” at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 13 in MSB 3.001. The program is sponsored by the Dean’s Office in collaboration with the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics.