Kathleen McMahon, RN, MEd, MA, has managed to combine her two passions in life — nursing and dance — to help nurses, patients and families.
McMahon, an experienced RN from Scotch Plains, N.J., who also is an accomplished dancer and teacher, has conducted programs that include movement, dance, stretching and toning with nurses in hospital and outpatient settings, patients in nursing homes and hospice, adolescents in shelters and children who have suffered loss, just to name a few.
“I use the words ‘therapeutic dance’ because I see the healing power of movement,” McMahon said. “I’ve watched as people dance; they engage their emotions and feel a sense of life and resiliency. They are pulled out of their daily routine and stresses to be ‘in the moment’ with themselves and their bodies.”
Having danced since she was a child, McMahon pursued her talent even while she worked full time at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and while she pursued advanced degrees. “Once I completed a four-year training program at Helix in psychotherapy and healing, I knew that I wanted to combine my two loves of dancing and health promotion,” she said.
During a humanitarian visit to Africa, McMahon traveled to Saint Elizabeth’s Hospice in Burundi, where she taught patients and staff dances such as the alley cat, Charleston, belly dancing and square dancing. “We did not speak the same language, and yet we communicated with one another through dance,” McMahon said.
McMahon enjoys the cultural and religious dimensions to dance, and uses their components in creating dance routines and helping others to create their own. “I’ve taught nurses and patients to belly dance, and it’s great because it’s usually outside their comfort zone and it’s fun, especially when you add costumes, earrings, scarves and veils,” she said.
McMahon presented the poster “Dance — Effectiveness of an Underused Modality in Health and Illness” at the New Jersey End-of-Life Consortium Nursing Conference in May, where she also offered the fourth annual “Care for the Caregivers Belly Dance Workshop.” Also performing at local nursing homes, assisted living communities, home care agencies and hospitals, McMahon plans to apply for grant funding to pursue community and professional activities in therapeutic dance. She also wants to develop continuing education nursing programs that explore dance and its therapeutic value and physical therapy programs that include choreographed dance and exercise for patients and the homebound elderly.
“I can’t imagine leaving nursing because I love the healing and the camaraderie,” McMahon said. “Putting dance and nursing together creates such joy for me.”