by Lise Worthen-Chaudhari, M.S, M.F.A
“I can’t even use crayons, but look. I made that and it’s cool.”
— Aaron Wolfe, stakeholder
Embedded Arts is an ongoing research program in the Motion Analysis and Recovery Biomechanics Lab (MARBL) at The Ohio State University. The project researches ways to use interactive digital arts and dance to improve the recovery and quality of life of stroke survivors and others with nervous system injury. The initial interactive design has been licensed and commercialized by the for-profit start-up Rekovo. Clients wear sensors and they explore small 3-dimensional movement patterns to aid their recovery. As they dance they get immediate feedback as they create a visual art composition on the monitor in front of them. Embedded Arts facilitates creative engagement (movement as art) in physical medicine (movement as medicine).
Photo credit: Ohio State University Dancer Timothy Hickey with Lise Worthen-Chaudhari
I'm now a Research Scientist in physical medicine and rehabilitation, but to get there I earned an M.F.A. in Dance at Ohio State and an M.S. in Kinesiology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I have more than a decade of experience conducting clinical research of central nervous system impairment and recovery and a lifetime as a dancer and choreographer.
Embedded Arts is an investigation into arts and medicine. Specifically, this research addresses ways to embed dance-based practices of movement exploration/play within medically managed neuromotor recovery from nervous system injury (e.g., spinal cord injury, brain injury, cancer-treatment induced neuropathy, etc). In other words, dancers experience movement improvisation as intrinsically rewarding (the doing is the reward) and rehabilitation practitioners know that patients have to move to gain or sustain, but they aren't always motivated. Dancers aren't generally motivated by external rewards--there just aren't million dollar contracts or throngs of adoring fans. We are motivated by the exhilarating act of dancing and the stimulating process of art-making. Embedded Arts creates a way to translate enjoyable movement and artistic output to folks in neuro-rehab by providing both an experience and a creative output in the visual compositions.
Art by Helen P Alkire, stroke survivor and the founder of The Ohio State University Department of Dance
I continue to articulate the case for dance as medicine thanks to incredible support from my Chair at The Ohio State University Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Dr. W. Jerry Mysiw. As dancers we need to work hard to make alliances. Researchers do this in most fields, so I look for allies within dance and science.
“ “Our intent is to incorporate dance into the therapeutic process to facilitate rehabilitation and recovery. We believe that the arts can be used to help drive neuroplasticity.””
— Dr W. Jerry Mysiw
My work currently has two parts, the research part which is funded by grants and takes place in my lab at Ohio State and the start-up side, as I advise the company that licensed my technology.
On the start up side, the technology is currently in use by home health and is being rolled out to skilled nursing facilities nationwide. There has been considerable excitement from the medical complex about representing therapeutic movement as both art and biomechanical data.
On the research side, this looks like writing grants to National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund scientific study and new development. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health within the NIH recently added "music and art as medicine" to the list of topics they are interested in and I'm advocating for them to include dance in their definitions.
Lise Worthen-Chaudhari installing an exhibit of Embedded Arts projects
Photo credit: Lindsay Caddle LaPoint
Embedded Arts works for anyone with a need to move following central nervous system injury. The program is especially useful for individuals with combinatorial cognitive and motor issues for whom explicit instructions might get in the way of implicit learning.
Recent census information indicates that more than 20% of the population is living with disability.
Physical intelligence is a learned skill. While the movements the clients embody are intentionally small, in designing and developing the program I draw from improvisational dance, contemporary dance, ballet, African dance, biomechanics, motor control, and neurorehabilitation work. Honestly, the work that I do, in neurorehabilitation, allows me to witness the massive intelligence of the dynamical moving system in action. This is humbling and motivating. Every. Day.