"'Norma's effect on people was magical. She was one of God's sparks of light'"
said Alan Shapiro of Newton, program director at the Community Therapeutic Day School in Lexington in The Boston Globe article of March 15, 2012, Norma Canner; helped to popularize dance therapy worldwide worldwide
"She would take very disturbed children with special needs and transform them like magic," Shapiro said. "Her ability was not that she performed. It was how she made other people express themselves by dancing. Norma could bring people out. She could transform somebody from being in their own world to joining the shared reality of everyone else in the room. If she didn’t have a musical instructor with her, she would pound on the floor to provide the rhythm.’’
I was excited to find a reprint of this article, "Stimulating Sounds and Vocalization through Body Movement and Rhythm with Hospitalized Children" by Norma Canner from a 1972 Monograph of the American Dance Therapy Association. It's a very clear look at how Norma Canner trained my cohort group in Spring 1975. Would be terrific for anyone who works with children on the autism spectrum, Asperger's, developmental disabilities. It's really how Canner taught us to work with all people, influencing my work with people with mental illness, chronic pain, physical disabilities, dementia. People are, after all, people and most respond to the kind of attentiveness she provided and taught others to provide.
Canner was instrumental in training teachers to work with children using movement in 1969, and in this article, she speaks about the use of props. Makes me realize how long some ideas take to brew (think Octaband). In speaking about instruments that Norma, staff/trainees and children all created and then used together,
"the fact that each person was playing on the same instrument as the next, accentuated the experience visually while reinforcing and activating each person's ability to express herself. I have found this to be true everywhere, no matter what the level of intellect or sophistication."
"We . . . talked about attaching instruments to the children's hands and feet if they were unable to hold them."
In this article, Norma tells a beautiful story of first working with the staff/trainees and 25 children in wheelchairs in an institution:
"Their disabilities were severe - from total incapacity of a crib-ridden hyrocephalic girl to one or two children who could take a few hesitant steps.... [W]e sang, hummed, took hold of hands and moved our bodies with theirs, with any part that could move. We gave shakers, bells or bones to the children who could hold them and those who could not."
Norma goes on to describe the interactions, small but exquisite, between her and the children and other staff and children, children who were not understood to be communicative.
"As the songs, sounds and movements crescendoed, the faces in the room became more and more alive. The session climaxed as though directed by a hidden force: the human need for expression."
"These children are examples of how creative movement and music transcends the labels and limitations society imposes upon the Deaf, the Retarded, the Blind and the Physically Handicapped."