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Personal Story: Kerrin Shortis

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Personal Story: Kerrin Shortis

Dancing for Exercise and Better Health

Written by Kerrin Shortis

 

In 2000, as a former track work rider, I acquired a Brain Injury from an irresponsible driver who tooted their horn at the horse I was riding. My horse then bolted on me. I collided with a large gum tree breaking my right femur, cracking my right wrist and my C1 vertebra.

 

I then spent six weeks in royal Melbourne hospital before being transferred to John Lindell rehabilitation centre where I had to learn to walk again. Six weeks after that I became an outpatient, struggling in the hydro pool as I had no floatation skills and became fearful. I had no coordination since acquiring my Brain Injury, and had significant balance issues which meant I needed to use crutches to get around. The hospital had a gym so I then started trying to rebuild myself. Unfortunately I had grown out of the facility in the hospital's eyes and was advised to find a gym in town. In 2002 I went to a gym nearby and although I was looked after and shown around in the first few sessions, I was soon forgotten about as the assistants had no idea about my memory loss or the fatigue that would occur often with a person that has an Acquired Brain Injury. 

 

In May 2013 I started taking lessons in Ballroom dancing at a studio called Idance under the instruction of Bronwyn Williams. It had been suggested to me that dancing might help with my coordination, balance, and posture. I went along to my first class and struggled but still I had so much fun interacting with everyone. I knew in time my coordination should get better as Bronwyn told me that I was using muscles all over my body which may not have been used in some time. Everyone at Idance was really friendly and some of the students had told me that they were exactly the same when they first started. 

 

I knew that the muscle in my right thigh was much smaller and weaker than my left, so it would be helpful if I could strengthen it slowly and not have the risk of overdoing it on a piece of equipment in a normal gym. After weeks and weeks of going to the once a week class I had noticed my balance was improving, along with my coordination. Dancing in a comfortable environment was uplifting and was building confidence which had been low for so many years. My memory was also improving, but only very slowly. 

 

Bronwyn and the other Idance teachers were supportive of the fact that my memory did fail me from time to time, and instead of making fun they would prompt me casually and it helped immensely as I never felt stupid. As I was only learning once a week, I did find it harder to recall what I had been taught the week before. It was suggested that I try to practice at home and anywhere that I had a flat surface as dancing the steps more often would help lock it into my brain. Well I tried it and it did work but at times I had altered the step which then meant I was remembering the wrong steps. Bronwyn would then have to correct me at the next class which I did find a small setback, but overall I was learning the basics of ballroom dancing and that felt amazing. To look graceful on the dancefloor is one of the most uplifting things possible for someone with an Acquired Brain Injury. 

 

I also had my mum Margaret pay for some private lessons so I could see if my leraning capacity was quicker one on one. I found it was, and I could dance a few times in the week and my memory was holding onto what I was taught so much more. I found I wasn't getting distracted as much like I had from time to time in a group class.

 

The self-confidence I have gained in 12 months of dancing is remarkable and amazing given that my balance is now far better than I can ever remember it being. My coordination after 12 months is stronger, still not perfect but I can keep working on that. The muscle tone in my right leg seems to be about the same now, which I believe is why my balance has improved so much since May 2013. 

 

In August 2014 I was asked to take part in the National Acquired Brain Injury Conference where I made a short film on myself ballroom dancing, where I could explain just how much of a benefit it has had on my life after having a Brain Injury. That short film is now on Youtube so I can only hope that more see and act on the benefits that dancing can have on our bodies after any workplace injury. Moving to the music can make you happier, smarter and a whole lot healthier.

 

"The brain re-wires itself based on use" wrote Jo Varghese MD a professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of medicine. The more you spend on the dance floor, the more you train your brain to open those feel good cells, amping up your overall well-being, helping with heart failure, and making your skelton strong. Dancing can preserve both motor skills and perceptual abilities, while also improving your mental state. Dancing can slay depression, is source of stress release, can improve your memory, as well as your coordination, all leading to stronger synapses and beefed up grey matter. Dancers are less likely to succumb to brain disease. 

 

A New England Journal of Mediine study of 11 physical activities found that dancing was the only one that lowered Dementia risk by a whopping 76% by just dancing for 20 to 30 minutes most days of the week. Dementia is a higher risk to those who have an Acquired Brain Injury. 

 

In the 12 months of learning ballroom dancing, never did I feel a gap of any kind as someone is always there to prompt you and help guide you around the dance floor. If I ever needed more attention to pick up at step in a dance it was given to me without question. Honestly I wish I had found dancing as an exercise and therapy twelve years ago, because the gap that is there from rehab to standard exercise is huge. I lost twelve years of my life to questioning who I am and who I would become because of that gap. 

 

In summary, I would like to have the opportunity to access rehabilitation funding for me, and others that have an Acquired Brain Injury, to pay for basic ballroom dance classses. I know that this does improve posture, balance, coordination, and overall mental health. Dancing is the best form of exercise for positive thinking and social inclusion, and to help adapt back into a workplace and back into life.  

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