alt=elderly ballerina Marta Gonzalez dances in her wheelchair. Ghostly version of her younger self dance behind her.

Dancing Her Way Through Alzheimer's Disease

Marta Cinta Gonzalez’s rise to fame came as she was filmed in a nursing home in Valencia, Spain, by Asociacion Música para Despertar. The Spanish organization uses music therapy to improve the memories and moods of those individuals affected by memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Her video went viral on the internet in 2019. She, unfortunately, has passed away since.

Marta Gonzalez, a prima ballerina

Nursing home workers had reported it was a typical day for Marta. She was in her wheelchair and had been battling some pretty severe cognitive deficits for quite some time. However, Martha, like all of us, had a story. She had danced as a prima ballerina in the early part of her life. She continued to teach the art form and inspire many students along the way.

The video showed a very frail Marta in a wheelchair. Then the music came on, it was from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. All of a sudden this very frail woman came to life. It was as if the music took over, and she began to do the very same choreography with her upper body, that she had done when she was a prima ballerina. She danced the famous scene of "The Dying Swan" from Swan Lake. The filmmaker’s played footage from Marta dancing as a prima ballerina and footage of her in her wheelchair. It absolutely brought chills down my spine and tears to my eyes.

Link between movement, music, and memory

Despite Marta’s severe memory loss and cognitive impairments due to Alzheimer’s disease, she proved that movement and music help invoke memory. A neuropsychologist Kristoffer Rhoads, Ph.D. explained the possible links between music, dance, and memory recall.

He states, "First of all, the complex cross-body movements of dancing recruit the procedural memory system and give it a workout." Procedural memory is a form of long-term memory related to learned sequences of movement (think: motor skills like walking, driving a car, riding a bike, etc.), he explained.

"It's also the form of memory that stays intact longer in people with Alzheimer's disease," he added, "and it may help people compensate for losses in short-term memory."

Marta and her connection to dance

Marta was born in Cuba. My research revealed she danced with New York Ballet in 1960. In 1966 there is a document from Cuban government stamped that Marta Gonzalez could be called a Prima Ballerina. She reportedly choreographed over 20 dance pieces as a teenager. She taught ballet to many students in Cuba, the US and, Spain. Marta was a warrior right until the very end, dancing her way through Alzheimer’s disease.

Marta proved that both music and movement help us to connect to our bodies, despite suffering severe cognitive impairment. It’s so amazing to me how the human body works. Alzheimer’s disease is a horrible disease that robs individuals of most of their memory. Individuals suffer irreplaceable and irreparable memory loss. However, not even Alzheimer’s disease could stop Marta display the joy and the emotional intensity of performing the same routine to Swan Lake, as she had done so many years ago.

This story was so inspiring to me. What a gift music and movement are to all of those who battle Alzheimer’s disease. Rest in peace and may you dance on for all of eternity Marta!

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