Welcome to the heartwarming world of the Dance/Movement Therapy Program at Variety Child Learning Center. As part of a multi-disciplinary approach to pre-school special education and services, VCLC provides a unique DMT program in an environment where students are able to find solace, joy, and growth through the magical combination of dance and creative movement.
Through the dedicated work of Misha Merna, Dance/Movement Therapist for VCLC, creative movement and dance are combined to empower children to develop their own body awareness. “The biggest part of what I do,” explained Misha, “is to allow the students to explore their own ways of self-expression. I prefer when they don’t follow a script, as there is no one-way to do something.”
Misha began working for the Center for Autism in Philadelphia, while pursuing her graduate degree in Dance/Movement Therapy at Drexel University. It was during this time that she set her own career path forward to work with the neurodiverse population. She began at VCLC as a Teacher Assistant in 2010 and in 2015, after obtaining her NY state licenses in Creative Arts Therapy (LCAT) and becoming board certified in Dance/Movement Therapy (BC-DMT), created the DMT program at Variety.
This program is not one commonly found in pre-school settings. “We use bodies and movement to communicate,” offered Misha. “In our program, we cater to the individual student, meeting them where they are. When their bodies come into regulation, and are balanced and safe, enjoyment and growth can happen,” explained Misha. Adding, “My hope is that students get a sense of acceptance and trust for who they are and that alone gives them a willingness and confidence to explore.”
Program benefits include the development of communication, social/emotional, collaborative skills. The DMT program works in tandem with all the services at VCLC- Special Education, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy and Child Counseling, as DMT can support and collaborate on goals in each area.
“I view dance, the body and therapy as a powerful combination,” said Misha. “Through this combination, students are able to use their bodies and movement to communicate and express their inner world, which is an important tool to have.”
Misha has spent most of her career at VCLC, creating an environment of harmony and growth-potential for her students. “It is important to celebrate every little win and every little thing. I presume competence in all of our students, until I see they need support, offers Misha.
Offering some advice to the new recruits in Education, “Be open to experiences and have the courage to try other options if the first ones do not work out,” she offers. “Variety Child Learning Center offers many different classroom and non-classroom choices, in different age groups. If you don’t like the first one, do not prematurely give up. Try something else. If you want to work with children, there are multiple ways to do that at Variety. You have to find where you fit.”
One of Misha’s recent experiences provided exactly what she loves the most about her role. “A non-verbal child came to a festival with his family and went right to the Lego table. The family went with their child and sat and played with no rules, time constraints or expectations.” shared Misha. “For that time, we cultivated a connection with that student and his family.”
Misha’s goal is that everyone embrace the magic of Dance/Movement therapy and empower every child to dance to the beat of their own beautiful melody.