I owe the initial impetus and motivation for exploring the use of inflatable balls to Becky, a lovely twenty-year-old whom I met in 1994 at the local Hospice where I did voluntary work. This sometimes bubbling, sometimes deeply depressed language student and cancer patient became one of my most inspiring 'teachers' during the nine months we could play, work, and speak German together before she finally succumbed to the illness at the age of twenty-one.
Dancing on Air
When I was asked to befriend Becky, give her plenty of opportunity to practise German, and also see if I could help her cope with severe pain, especially in her neck, I found that she was utterly terrified of being touched (by insensitive hands) and yet longing for human contact. What upset Becky most of all was the fact that she could no longer rely on her left leg. She wanted to dance once again ...
We soon found a way of dancing together to the music she loved most - without her ever being touched (at least initially). Becky put on a cassette with her favourite tunes and settled comfortably on two inflatable oval balls wrapped in a blanket. The softly yielding balloons securely supported her back and head while the soles of her feet remained in touch with the floor. When the familiar sounds began to pervade her slender body, Becky's face relaxed. A happy smile appeared as soon as she felt gentle waves travelling through her as I applied pressure to the air cushions in rhythm with the music. The fear of being touched vanished after a few such dance sessions. Then Becky's leg "miraculously" recovered strength and stability which astonished even her doctors. Thus "re-musicked" (an expression coined by neurologist Oliver Sachs for the impact music can have in functionally re-organizing and coordinating a person) the young woman regained much of her zest for life. She truly began to appreciate and enjoy every precious moment that was not too marred by the effects of chemotherapy.
One day she surprised herself(and me just as much). While we were having tea and listening to her pop-music, Becky spontaneously got up from the couch and started dancing ... with ever greater confidence and abandon, laughingly inviting those present to join in. At that moment - and on a number of other occasions, for instance when she roared through winding country lanes and sleepy villages on the back of a Harley Davidson, or visited Germany, her chosen second home, for the last time - Becky vindicated Moshe Feldenkrais famous assertion: "A healthy person is one who realises her deepest dreams.
Gentle movement for people with life-threatening illnesses: Dancing on Air