The caregiver’s dance

Anna Marie Shogren puts art and healing in conversation

Caregiver's dance
A dance piece by choreographer Anna Marie Shogren's work as a personal care attendant was performed at the Minneapolis Central Library during Northern Spark in June. Photo courtesy Boris Oicherman

Like many artists and creative professionals, dancer and choreographer Anna Marie Shogren has a day job.

Over the years, she’s had an assortment of work experiences as a caregiver. For a long time she was a personal care assistant, and she has also worked with kids who have special needs and older adults with dementia or other cognitive or physical restrictions. For the last few years, Shogren has taught therapy-based movement classes in a variety of senior living situations.

She spent a lot of time helping people move, such as assisting the transition into a chair or bed. And she thought a lot about how much problem solving goes into being able to physically move through space with another person.

“So many of the skills have really been supported by my training in dance,” Shogren said. “That’s why I paired these two communities.”

Over the past year, she has been investigating the notion of caregiving through her dance practice.

“At first I was trying to get at that quality of movement in my own body,” she said. “(Then) I thought about wanting to put dancers in the position of the healthcare workers and allowing audience being the ones cared for.”

caregiver dance
The participatory dance piece involves audience members in movements inspired by caregiving. Photo courtesy Boris Oicherman

In January, Shogren invited a live audience to a participatory dance piece. “Professionals,” an hour-long film documenting the event, records the dancers approaching the audience one by one. In the vocabulary of a healthcare practitioner, they demonstrate the “correct” way to move someone, placing audience members in a tableau.

Moving someone “correctly” is supposed to be the safest for the lifter and the person being lifted.

“There are leverage techniques for a lot of various abilities and body types,” Shogren said.

But in some cases, moving someone correctly isn’t so black and white.

“Life is so varied and different and messy,” she said. “In so many situations, moving someone the correct way is not going to work.”

The person might be bigger than the caregiver, or they may have had a stroke, making one side of their body more weighted than the other. Shogren is curious about ways in which improvisation might be the safest course of action.

After making the film, Shogren decided to switch roles, allowing the audience to “play” the caregivers and move the dancers according to precise verbal instructions. She presented that version first at the 9X22 dance series at the Bryant-Lake Bowl and then again last summer at Minneapolis Central Library for the Northern Spark Festival.

Caregiver dance
Photo by Sheila Regan

Now, Shogren is taking her project to the Weisman Art Museum as part a residency program that partners the University of Minnesota’s medical school with the museum. Shogren is working closely with nursing students and educators at the Center for Aging Science and Care Innovation in the University’s School of Nursing to explore the connections between dance and caregiving.

Through the residency, Shogren has access to nursing students, faculty nurses and nurses-in-training so that she can learn about the process of training nurses and generate ideas, according to Kristine Talley, CASCI’s Director.

“I think Anna has some really innovative ideas about the interaction between caregivers and older adults who need assistance,” Talley said. “Her ideas are fresh and exciting.”

The hope, according to Talley, is “to create some kind of activity that can be used between caregivers and the people they are helping, to help them connect more on a human level.”

Ultimately, Shogren will create a dance that can be used as a morning ritual, before a stretch activity or even as a one-on-one activity.

“I’m thinking about dance as a community ritual,” she said. “It’s a micro-dose of dance for the whole community.”

As part of the residency, Shogren and her partners are researching how dance can benefit both seniors and their caregivers.

Caregiver dance
Photo courtesy Boris Oicherman

“Everyone in the School of Nursing is concerned about benefitting senior communities, which is very much part of my focus as well,” she said. “But I’m also interested in taking care of people doing the work and taking care of the whole surrounding community, … even people in business office.”

“It’s exciting for me to see her process as an artist,” said Talley, noting it’s vastly different from her process as a researcher. Still, she added, “Innovation takes people from lots of disciplines to help come up with new innovative ideas.”

So far, Shogren has conducted two workshops inside the museum where participants take part in Shogren’s explorations into the physical relationship between a caregiver and the person for whom they are providing care.

At one of these workshops, Marcus Young, a movement artist himself, participated in the experiment. Shogren explained that they would each take turns being the caregiver, with the other person moving as if they had some difficulty or physical struggle.

“I channeled my grandmother,” Young said, describing his turn as the person receiving care.

Without speaking, they negotiated the space around them, providing assistance as they moved each other from standing to sitting. Afterwards, they discussed the experience, talking about ways that, when they were doing the exercise, they assessed, problem-solved, provided comfort and checked in with the other person without ever using words.

Shogren will host two more workshops at the Weisman, on Nov. 2 and 9, where visitors can come and try out the improvised movement. On Nov. 28, the Weisman will host a discussion between Shogren, Talley and Jean Wyman, the University’s Cora Meidl Siehl Chair in Nursing Research and a member of the Center for Aging Science and Care Innovation faculty.

Dance Like Nurse, Nurse Like a Dancer

When: 12:20 p.m.–1:50 p.m. Nov. 2 and 9

Where: Weisman Art Museum, 333 E. River Rd.

Cost: Free