When the pandemic hit, Karen Kaeja decided to explore how dance can affect mental health.
Kaeja had already created Moving Connections, a free program designed to get everyone involved who wanted to participate, no matter their dance background or experience. This came from researching with community participants, she had concluded that everyone had a story to tell, and Moving Connections was born.
“We believe that all people are dancers, that dance is in our breath and in our blood,” Allen Kaeja, co-founder of Kaeja d’Dance company, said. “The purpose of Moving Connections is to invite everyone to share a moment of that dance.”
The program started in 2018 in Toronto, prior to the pandemic, and has received a positive reception from participants.
Transitioning to Zoom
During the pandemic, the Kaejas re-worked their sessions and shifted to Zoom, and found that moving the program online allowed for a larger audience.
Sarah Caraher is the project and media manager for Kaeja d’Dance and she spoke about the transition between in-person to Zoom.
“When the pandemic hit, we sort of had to reimagine what that (Moving Connections) might look like in a virtual setting,” Caraher said. “But the really cool thing about is it allowed us to do a few different virtual iterations of the program, and reach people from all over the country.”
The way the sessions are led has not changed aside from the format.
“All of our sessions typically begin with a warm-up led by our dancers to get everyone moving and in their bodies,” Caraher said. “In our current online sessions, this is followed by a demonstration of how to create movements before participants are split up into Breakout Rooms.”
All participants practise and demonstrate their movements in their breakout-room groups.
For both in-person and online, privacy is a priority, therefore no dances will be shared unless consent is granted from the participant(s), and you must also be a participant to take part in the program, not an on-looker. You can have your camera off and provide movement ideas verbally if you wish.
Using movement to boost mental health
Kaeja d’Dance was created in 1990 by Karen and Allen Kaeja with the objective of displaying human experiences and stories through dance.
They have toured the world and have performed for many communities, on TV shows, films and stage, and have won a number of awards for their dances.
During the pandemic, Kaeja d’Dance researched in collaboration with the University of Calgary to explore the effects that movement and connecting with people online had on people’s mental health.
They found that dances and movement had the biggest impacts on adults and the elderly, according to a research paper published by the university.
“Dance interventions lead to new social connections, and given the negative impact of COVID-19 on aging populations, we recommend such initiatives.” Dr. Pil Hansen said. “They can help older adults regain the comfort levels and confidence necessary to make social connections again.”
However, the benefits aren’t limited to adults as the elderly and children can participate.
“So [Karen Kaeja was] looking at how moving and connecting with other people online has benefited their overall health, their sense of social connection, their sense of body positivity, particularly during the pandemic,” Caraher said. “Our purpose at this point is to get as many people involved as possible to keep them feeling good during these challenging times.”
Mental health was and still remains an issue in Canada during the pandemic. Statistics Canada reported a decrease in perceived mental health in 2019 but as the pandemic hit during the end of 2019, this took a major toll on people’s mental health.
How to join
Susan Yee, a participant of the program in 2022, was elated to be part of the dances.
“I cannot thank you (Karen Kaeja) enough for this rare opportunity to be introduced to, guided and supported in movement as a way to get more in touch with who we are for ourselves and for the world,” Yee said in a review on the site. “I have found it scary and challenging but ultimately surprising, releasing and expanding.
“That you can actually feel the energy generated during the sessions and that you can actually experience a feeling of community via Zoom is amazing!”
The next program begins again on March 27 to May 1 and the program is open to everyone for free, regardless of age, dance experience, mobility, or country. Interested participants can register here.