By Grant Martin
Kate Stribling, right, teaches dance to an 11-year-old as a form of physical therapy.
Kate Stribling has been dancing most of her life, first as a participant and later as an instructor. Recently, however, she has started to look at her pastime from a new angle—as a scientist.
Stribling, a doctoral student in the physical therapy program at UAB, is melding her professional and personal interests to study the therapeutic benefits of dance. Over the course of three months, she worked with an 11-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, teaching her moves that put a new spin on physical therapy exercises.
“Physical therapy can be pretty demanding,” Stribling says. “Dancing helps patients accomplish the exercises while having fun. It also requires a wide range of movement—and movement in all planes as opposed to straightforward, up-and-down exercises. We hope that will translate into better movement and better posture for therapy patients.”
Stribling has been teaching dancing classes for more than a decade. In 2008, she helped start a class for children with special needs. “These kids really seemed to enjoy it, and it was obviously good for them to exercise,” she says.
After enrolling in the physical therapy program at UAB, Stribling continued teaching dance to special-needs children. She wasn’t surprised when she saw a newspaper article about a 30-year-old man with cerebral palsy who had achieved amazing results through dance.
“This man had done physical therapy for most of his life, but it wasn’t until he began dancing that he saw this dramatic change,” Stribling says. “He looked like a typical individual with no disability at all. Of course, this was an anecdotal story, not a scientific study.”
Stribling decided to undertake that study, and she found an ideal candidate in her 11-year-old partner. Stribling is now analyzing the results of their dozen-plus sessions, but she says she is confident that the dance therapy was effective. “This is a child who has been in physical therapy her whole life, but I believe I have seen a difference in her spatial awareness and general body awareness during the course of this study.”