Posted on: March 5th, 2015 by Rose Nemunaitis, via Geauga Maple Leaf
With a degree in dance and a license in professional clinical counseling, Jen Emch always dreamed of joining the healing powers of both worlds to help others. “However, life is what happens to you when you are making other plans,” Chardon’s Emch said, referring to how she became immersed in her work in the mental health field.
That is until the timing was right and she discovered Dancing Mindfulness classes.
By day, Emch is a clinical supervisor and therapist at Family Pride of Northeast Ohio in Chardon, providing counseling and case management services to families and children in Geauga, Lake and Ashtabula Counties. By night, she is introducing Geauga County to this newer art form of dance, which encourages participants to find their “inner ballerina” in a safe and welcoming environment at BellAmore’ Salon and Spa in Chardon.
Dancing Mindfulness was launched in the summer of 2012 by Ohio’s Jamie Marich, a clinical counselor and expert in traumatic stress studies and spiritual issues who uses the art form of dance as the primary medium of discovering “being in the moment,” Emch explained.
It is derived from the larger practice of “Conscious Dance,” a free-form expression that emphasizes inclusiveness and takes place in a substance-free environment, she said, adding there are about 100 facilitators trained to teach the classes around the country and Puerto Rico.
Jayme O’Connell, of Middlefield, said that “dance is completely out of my comfort zone” but was urged by a friend to give it a try. She was pleasantly surprised at the results.
“There are no feelings of anyone judging you in these classes,” O’Connell said. “You are able to ‘dance like nobody’s watching’ and in some way, I think this seems to carry over to when the class ends and you re-enter the outside world.”
Though it incorporates dance, yoga, music, meditation or spiritual practice, classes are open to everyone regardless of previous experience with any of these elements. In general, the classes last 60 minutes, but can be anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours, Emch said.
Each class begins with a centering and grounding exercise and has a theme, such as “acceptance,” she said, adding words of encouragement, such as “trust” and “acceptance,” are written in dry erase markers on mirrors in the studio as a focus.
“We then move into stretching to warm up the body and with some floor stretches and end standing,” Emch said. “The design of the playlists and the facilitation prompts help people to find their breath and story in any movement that fits for them.”
Significantly, participation in these classes allows individuals in recovery to resume an activity they once associated with using substances, and perhaps other risk factors. For instance, they may have once associated dancing with clubbing in the past, Marich explained on her website.
“It truly is a ‘come as you are,’ safe container to share your story or re-write your story using movement,” Emch said.
She said she is ready and energized to take her classes to a more permanent location and is looking for the right place to rent in Chardon that would be a complete health and wellness studio integrating practices that promote mind, body and spirit.
“Born and raised in Geauga County, I find this a location that will welcome a health and wellness studio,” Emch said.
The life-time dancer grew up in Burton Village, where her parents still live, and graduated in 1996 from Berkshire High School. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Dance degree from Lake Erie College in 1999 and Masters of Education degree in 2004 in Community Agency Counseling from Cleveland State University.
After high school, Emch went on to teach various styles of dance at local studios in Lake, Geauga and Cuyahoga counties for the next 10 to 12 years.
“Although they have programs of study for dance therapy in various locations throughout the country, at the time I finished my undergraduate degree, I would have been too homesick to move away — and not ashamed to admit it — to one of the official dance therapy programs,” Emch added.
The vocals of India Arie or songs such as Katy Perry’s “Firework” pulsate behind Bell-Amore’ salon’s dance studio doors as participants are encouraged to embrace the lyrics by looking to overcome life’s obstacles and find peace within while striving for the best version of themselves.
“The things I have gained from the classes is a sense of relaxation, mental awareness, as well as being able to let stress go and just be relaxed and be in tune of what I need to take care of myself,” said participant Sheryl Flanagan. “I will tell you this, I missed a class and was out of sorts because I was so looking forward to the class to get some relief from a very stressful week of work. I then knew for sure how much the classes have helped me become grounded to what I need to be healthy and take care of myself.”
O’Connell added, “I have gained so much more from this experience than I ever knew was possible. I am able to spend an entire hour of complete serenity. I have less anxiety as a result of attending Dancing Mindfulness classes.”
Emch surmises the classes have been successful so far because more and more people are looking for a “personal time out,” a place to disconnect from the daily grind and reconnect with themselves.
“I have heard many people tell me, and I’ve experienced it myself, that you don’t realize just how disconnected you are until you have the opportunity and safe container in which to explore being mindful,” she said. “We really focus on the ‘just be,’ letting go of yesterday and what we have to do later today, tomorrow and just being fully present in the moment, without judgment.”
She added, “People don’t realize how cathartic it can be until they give it a try.”
Dancing Mindfulness Classes are offered twice a month from 6:307:30 p.m. at BellAmore’ Salon and Spa, 425 Water St., Chardon. Upcoming classes are March 11 and 25. Space is limited to 12 participants. A $10 donation is appreciated.