by Deborah Denenfeld
The soldier froze at the door to the conference room. His breathing was shallow. His eyes darted around the room.
He had danced with us before, in a different location, so I was surprised by his reaction.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“It’s this room …,” he said. “But I think it’ll be okay. There’s only this one door, but I can throw one of those chairs through the window to get out if I have to.”
This is the world tens of thousands of soldiers and veterans live in. Acute awareness of their environment and their own personal safety keeps them alive in extremely dangerous situations. Now back home, their PTSD puts them on high alert at a moment’s notice.
As I’ve worked to create a dance program to benefit these individuals, this scene has stuck in my mind. This soldier, who participated in the dance series I led at Fort Knox in 2010, is part of a phenomenon that concerns me deeply—the proliferation of PTSD among combat veterans.
Veterans with PTSD face higher unemployment, divorce, and suicide rates, as well as serious health problems related to ongoing stress and anxiety. These individuals need to be integrated back into a supportive community. They need a safe place to heal and re-acclimate, together with their loved ones. This is where Dancing Well: The Soldier Project comes in.
Community dance helps these individuals in myriad ways. Soldiers have reported improved mood and memory, decreased anxiety, greater ease in groups, better relationships with family members, and an improved outlook on the future.
I’m happy to report that the soldier did decide to enter the room, and, once he did, the live music and dancing brought him back to the present moment. Before he knew it, he was smiling and enjoying himself. And when the series was over, he reported all the positive outcomes listed above. I cannot fully describe to you how gratifying it is to see this kind of transformation.
And now, through your generous support, this same kind of experience, these same benefits, will be available to many more veterans and families touched by PTSD and debilitating brain injury. In the midst of writing a blog post about our participation in the Celebration of Life, a local suicide prevention fair for veterans, I received word that Dancing Well had raised the funds for its first dance series.
As I received the incredible news, I thought of the solders and families I danced with at Fort Knox and of the many families who will now benefit from this unique and powerful program. I’ve already spoken to three veterans who hope to participate, and we expect to be dancing together in the first quarter of 2014.
This first series is just the beginning, marking the official launch of the Dancing Well national project, which will include four dance series and the creation and implementation of a comprehensive curriculum to train others to lead dance with veterans suffering from PTSD and brain injury, and their loved ones.
In closing, I am incredibly grateful for the unflagging support of the dance community. We could not have reached this critical milestone without you—thank you from the bottom of my heart. I know 2014 is going to bring much health and healing, and I look forward to sharing the details with you as they unfold. Wishing you joy for the holidays!
The Country Dance and Song Society continues to be the proud fiscal sponsor for the project.