By Annmarie Steffes
For most people, yoga is for personal relaxation and self-awareness, but senior dance major Alex Burnett-Greenstein sees alternative movement practices as a way to substantially help behavioral issues in children.
Burnett-Greenstein's project, funded by a Provost Undergraduate Research Fund (PURF) award this year, examines the impact that alternative movement or "somatic" work can have on children with behavioral issues. As part of the work, she is developing a program for Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Washington D.C.
Although always surrounded by dance and yoga -- her mother was a dancer and she herself became interested in alternative movement at age 2 -- Alex first explored the connection between yoga and behavior during a study abroad trip to India. Working with organizations there, she taught yoga, Indian dance and relaxation to endangered Indian children in slums and noticed its positive and uplifting results.
"I think a lot of people and I included had assumed that kids aren't that interested in yoga or don't have an interest in sophisticated movement and breath relaxation skills," she said. "When I was in India ... these kids were really excited about these (exercises) and really investing themselves in it and that was, for me, exciting."
Burnett-Greenstein said she wanted to share that excitement at home.
"I wanted to take my experiences from India and transform them so I could work with these kids in my neighborhood back home, find some relaxation and find some fun outside of the daily grind," she said. "I wanted to adapt that experience that I had into an urban setting and see if there was any impact on their daily lives."
Over spring break, Burnett-Greenstein developed her own program to help children in a destitute area of Washington, D.C. -- the southeast district of the city. A Washington, D.C., native, Burnett-Greenstein says the public schools in this area near Anacostia are severely underfunded and have few extracurricular options available to them. In order to help offset the area's financial problems, non-profits will often come into the schools and offer services.
To conduct her research, Burnett-Greenstein worked with a nonprofit group, Dance Place DC -- an organization with which she previously interned -- to create her own outreach program for the local school children with behavioral needs. In her project, Burnett-Greenstein instructs third- and fifth-graders with exercises designed to their age group -- movement games for the younger children and breathing exercises and yoga for the older kids. She then determines if her involvement has had any impact on the child's school and home life.
In the "pre-research" stage, Burnett-Greenstein said her work has yielded some insights on children's needs.
"I'm finding that I'm also learning more from the organization that I'm working with," she said. "That's helping me a lot in my research. They are so willing to just give me all kinds of information about the school and the kids and their needs."
Building on her research, Burnett-Greenstein plans to continue working with children in alternative movement after she graduates from Ohio University. She hopes to bring credibility and importance to a dance form that some see as commonplace.
"I think that it shows a lot about movement and the basic concepts that we underestimate the way that dance and breath -- or something as simple as that -- can change everyday life or the way that we interact with someone else."
Updated May 15, 2009