“Dance brings out the healthiest part of people.” Lisa Wisel
It was one of those frigid but brilliantly sunny, winter afternoons as I made my way to the large, second-floor space at the Magnolia Senior Center. I was there to meet Lisa Wisel and experience something completely new to me – a community class in Dance and Movement Therapy.
I arrive to find a circle of seats being filled with friendly, local seniors, all eager for class to start. By the way they greet one another, I can see this group is its own little family. Lisa’s entrance triggers a chorus of happy hello’s, and from the first notes of Here Comes the Sun the room is transformed into happiness.
“Motion is the lotion!” Lisa sings out cheerfully from the center, guiding everyone from a seated warm-up to a dance routine – with music ranging from Big Band to Sinatra to The Pointer Sisters.
When The Wanderer pops up on the playlist, Lisa pulls 89 year-old Tony into the circle. He spins her around in a way that only men from that era know how to lead a partner. The group boogies to “We are Family” and forms a conga line around the room. It was a hoot!
When Lisa spots one especially enthusiastic dancer she jokes with an exaggerated wink, “Hey, did you have a lot of liquor today?” (Not an odd question really – this is Long Beach after all!) The whole room erupts into laughter.
This happy group kept it going for nearly an hour. Just your average Friday afternoon in Long Beach for the 65 and over set. And no, they weren’t drinking!
Afterwards I sat down with Lisa to chat about her life and work as a Dance and Movement Therapist (DMT) here in Long Beach.
Lisa was raised in Smithtown by ballroom dancing parents, but that didn’t automatically translate into a career calling. In fact, she was so uncertain of her career path she decided to throw herself into a series of community college classes in the hope that something would click. And one day it did. During a dance class she learned about a form of psychotherapy called Dance Therapy. That was it. She was hooked.
With a Bachelor and a Masters Degree, she arrived in Long Beach in the late 80’s to work at the now defunct Long Beach hospital. Her career was jettisoned in 1998 by a former patient named Pearl Weill who became a dear friend and mentor. Pearl had broken her hip and Lisa helped her recover. Pearl was so impressed that she helped Lisa bring her dance program to the three senior centers in Long Beach – Magnolia, MLK and JASA.
Today she has her own practice, which includes teaching classes and working privately with people managing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, head injuries, arthritis, and stoke.
While many people might only see her class as a free-flowing hour of exercise, Lisa explains there are 3 well devised components:. Warm-up, Development, and Closure. By reading the energy of the group, she feels for what each person needs, physically, emotionally and socially – similar to a mental health professional. She explains, “They come for connection, and many are dealing with loss – the loss of people they love, loss of physical functions, downsizing a home.” Lisa picks up on meaningful moments and tries to give them a release. It comes naturally to her now, but it actually took her ten years to get to this level.
“One of the nice things about dance therapy class is that I can take care of individuals in group setting, and help them connect with each other.”
One day last year, a group of special education students visiting the Magnolia Center were drawn to the music being played in her class, so Lisa invited them to join in. Everyone had such a blast that that they decided to continue the merged class it on a monthly basis.
Lisa is very appreciative of her life as a Long Beach local. For her, the town holds a plethora of sensory awareness. “It’s so easy to smell the briny air… and the sun feels expansive, healing and warm here.” She loves how the boardwalk serves as a connector for people, and she adores heading to the beach when it snows.
DMT and spiritual growth is something Lisa continues to learn and practice at The Gestalt Center of Long Island and A Society of Souls. “I’m on a healing path to be more available to the people I work with.”
She just returned from a trip to Cuba with her dance troupe from Rhythmology, a dance school in Westbury.
To learn more about her classes or book a private session, you can contact her as email@example.com.
For the city’s website link to the monthly calendar of Lisa’s classes at the Magnolia Center click here.
Coming up next on Short Stories from Long Beach: The original Polar Bear Plungers who turned a winter swim into one of the biggest events in Long Beach.