USC Externship: A Week with Invertigo's DTP

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A Visit with David Leventhal
By Madison McCann

My name is Madison, and I am a graduate student at USC’s Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. For those unfamiliar with occupational therapy (OT), OT helps individuals do the things they need to do, want to do, and are expected to do in daily life. Our focus is on participation in meaningful occupations and activities of daily living. This semester, we were given the opportunity to complete a 2 week externship to learn about leadership and advocacy. During my first week, I had the opportunity to participate in a program for adults with developmental disabilities, as well as shadow an occupational therapist working in a non-clinical role as the manager of guest accessibility at a local event space. For my second week, I was able to work with Invertigo Dance Theatre and participate in their Dancing through Parkinson’s classes for one week!

I learned so much from all of the instructors and dancers at Invertigo Dance Theatre, but I was especially lucky to get the chance to learn from the Program Director and founding teacher of Dance for PD, David Leventhal, who guest taught the Electric Lodge Dancing Through Parkinson’s class this week! Before class, I read all about David’s accomplishments and his journey founding this organization. However, it quickly became evident as I participated in his class just how warm and inspirational of a dance teacher he was. 

In my occupational therapy program, our professors constantly remind us about the importance of creativity, participation, and meaningful activities. David’s class perfectly exemplified all three of these concepts. Creativity oozed out of every routine and activity we performed. Because of his teaching style and his ability to infuse creativity into every step of the class, every dancer was able to fully participate, no matter how they were feeling that day or what stage of Parkinson’s they were in. Looking around the room you could see how meaningful the activities were to the dancers, and the enthusiasm and desire to participate were evident and contagious. Something I loved about David’s class in particular was the element of nostalgia and familiarity he incorporated into his routines. At one point, the class danced to “Singing in the Rain”, and David urged us all to do our best Gene Kelly impressions, which evoked laughs from all the dancers. Towards the end of class, David played “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music, and the class demonstrated their best artistic expression of mountains. Not only were the activities creative and beautiful, but they were also highly motivational and inspiring to participate in. 

Going into this experience, I did not know what to expect. I am not a dancer, and I do not consider myself to be a particularly artistic person. However, I was amazed at how David and Invertigo Dance Theatre’s Dancing Through Parkinson’s class perfectly exemplified the values of Occupational Therapy, including creativity and participating in meaningful activities. As I continued to participate in other Dancing Through Parkinson’s classes throughout the week, it was clear that all of the dance teachers embodied these qualities as well.  I am very grateful and inspired by the opportunity to learn from this group, and I will carry the lessons I learned with me through my career as an occupational therapist. Thank you very much, Invertigo Dance Theatre!

Jodi Lipschitz on her USC-DTP Shadow Week Experience

For the USC Leadership Capstone, we are required to spend time getting to understand a community-based program to gain a deeper understanding of the leadership and work required in running a program. As a student in the Occupational Therapy program with an interest in neurological conditions, I wanted to find a program serving this population. I continued my search for many days before stumbling upon Invertigo Dance Theatre’s Dancing Through Parkinson’s program. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine my interest in this population with my long-time love of dance. 

This week has been a growing experience for me as I had little experience with the behind the scenes work of a community-based program.  As the week progressed, I learned more about grant writing, social media marketing, workplace practices, advocacy, in addition to the classes I was fortunate enough to observe. This program always had the consumers in mind when working through any logistical issue and placed the dancers as priorities when cultivating a resources and advocacy sheet.  

It was interesting to witness the workings and logistics of the creation and maintenance of these classes that go into each week. Keeping attendance, making sure everyone’s voices and concerns were heard, modifying movements when needed, relaying announcements to the class, and creation of choreography are all a part of the main responsibilities of the teachers. All of the DTP teachers did an amazing job of completing these tasks and making sure each individual had a turn to voice their concerns. 

One of the most important aspects of the class, as someone going into the occupational therapy field, was the brain teaser activities held in each class. This incorporated tricky movement sequences, which forced the dancers to work on coordination and memory.  In addition, the use of a ballet warm-up allowed the dancers to hone in on skills related to balance, weight shifting, and bilateral coordination. 

The environment of the classes is what excited me the most about my time here as it was so welcoming to anyone who was able to join that day. The teachers and volunteers made sure every dancer had a part in choreographing the festival piece with movements that they were comfortable with for the performance. Additionally, there was always one teacher or volunteer completing the sequence sitting down and one standing up to allow each dancer to feel happy with whatever their body is able to do. 

Overall, this week taught me more about the many beautiful individuals with Parkinson’s Disease within the Los Angeles area. It was a joy to learn from these amazing individuals as well as the teachers and staff of DTP. It has been both humbling and eye-opening to see the work that goes into making this program as great as it is each week. I am hopeful to bring this experience into my future career of being an occupational therapist.