To Dance is to Live: An Interview with Maureen Mulrooney
Do you enjoy dancing?
by Successful Aging in Action! | 10.25.19
“Dance opens up horizons and imagination. It makes you feel more alive. It opens up the world to you.” ~Maureen Mulrooney
Querencia at Barton Creek resident, Maureen Mulrooney, shares her lifelong love of dance by teaching movement classes at her community.
By: Danielle Palli
“To dance is to live,” is Maureen Mulrooney’s motto. Having grown up in England, she began ballet lessons at age six, and hasn’t stopped dancing since (ballet, ballroom, contemporary ... you name it). Years later, she would marry and move to America.
In no time, she was teaching at an Arthur Murray Studio, and eventually opened one of her own. During this time, she was approached by a music therapist working at the Zeller Zone Center at Peoria State Hospital, and asked if Maureen would be interested in creating a movement therapy program to work with those who had been admitted. She accepted, creating the first dance therapy program of its kind. A year later, she expanded her initiative to include working with varied age groups.
“I remember I was asked to work with a mute five- year-old girl who hadn’t spoken since she was three,” Maureen told me. “I played the song ‘Spinning Wheel’ and she suddenly began singing to the music. After two years of silence, she also began talking again.” Maureen went on to tell me about a traumatized teenager who “stood like a statue” and was comatose. She played different music for the teen, and when Maureen got to “I Am a Rock,” by Simon and Garfunkel, the young woman began to dance.
Over the course of her career, Maureen taught deaf children to move to rhythm by having them feel the vibration of the music coming from the speakers. She taught blind children (who have a natural tendency to become spatially confused and walk in circles) to walk toward the music (in a straight line) and learn their place in space.
Maureen even went on to teach in the school systems, helping special needs children learn spelling and math by putting words and numbers to music. “I found music that people responded to,” she said.
“I led a group of children with Down’s Syndrome using their favorite songs, ‘Delta Dawn’ and ‘Happy Together,’ and they ended up putting on a recital to the delight of their parents.”
Maureen’s special gift is being empathetic and able to adapt music and dance to whomever she teaches.
Always seeking to inspire others, Maureen noticed when she moved to Querencia at Barton Creek, that her fellow residents could probably benefit from dance too. She now teaches line dancing, a moving to music class, and is currently devising a way to create chair classes to develop upper body strength and better posture. “I tell people to imagine they are moving through water, and it immediately makes them calmer and more receptive.”
Countless research studies support that dance and other physical movement activities boost memory, increase flexibility, help improve balance, reduce stress, support cardiovascular health and expand creativity.
“Dance opens up horizons and imagination,” Maureen smiled. “It makes you feel more alive. It opens up the world to you.”
*Originally printed in the Fall 2019 Masterpiece Living Mosaic newsletter.
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