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Prima ballerina with Alzheimer's has emotional response to hearing 'Swan Lake'

Cerith Gardiner - published on 11/11/20

The former dancer's powerful reaction is heartbreaking, yet an important testimony to the power of music.

In 1960, Marta C. Gonzalez stepped out on to the stage in New York as the company’s prima ballerina. During her career with the New York Ballet, the dancer performed various roles, including Odette in Swan Lake in 1967.

Over half a century later, in 2019, Gonzalez succumbed to the progressive disorder of Alzheimer’s, but before she died, she pulled off a final performance that — although emotional to watch — is an incredible testament to the power of music, and the talent behind the elderly ballerina.

In the video posted by Asociacion Musica para Desperta, a Spanish charity that uses music with dementia patients to help give them a boost, you can see Gonzalez’s emotional response to the familiar sound of Tchaikovsky. Her frail hands start to move and the result is transfixing. Incredibly, after all those decades, the former dancer remembers her choreography.

Actor Antonio Banderas responded to the dance with an important message:

53 years ago she was a NYC Ballet dancer. Tchaikovsky’s music managed to triumph over Alzheimer’s. It’s been a year since all of this. Now on the occasion of your passing, receive the dissemination of these images as a well deserved recognition of your art and your passion. RIP Marta C. Gonzalez.

After her final filmed performance, the elderly Gonzalez is visibly moved and shares her emotions with the nursing home staff. Those watching applaud her efforts but her frustration is tangible.

While the video makes for emotional viewing, it is a further demonstration of how powerful music can be in the treatment of dementia. The charity wished to share the video a year after her death to pay homage to the former dancer.

Gladys Wilson and Naomi Feil

Read more:
The beautiful moment when an Alzheimer’s patient responds to Christian hymns

ElderlyHealth and WellnessMusic
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