Moving Melodies 

Moving Melodies is a fun, creative, and participatory program for older adults that uses dance, music, and storytelling to engage the mind and the body. Building on her background of over 30 years' experience as a dancer, musician, and teacher, Madhavi Marcia Mai has developed Moving Melodies to share the joy of creative expression with older adults.

Moving Melodies workshops are offered for every ability level, and are fully customized to meet the needs of each group (including physical limitations such as walkers and wheelchairs). Workshops are a welcoming space, and begin with ‘deep immersion’ singing where Marcia sings a well-known song with participants, accompanied by guitar. Marcia establishes a slow rhythmic pace that allows for deeper, more conscious breathing. While the lungs expand, the brain gets more oxygen, bodies can relax, and minds can savor mental and emotional responses evoked by the lyrics and melodies. Feet often start tapping and heads nodding during deep immersion singing, leading naturally to the next phase of Moving Melodies where we add movement and mime. We dance together to the song that we've just sung, and afterward have a time for sharing personal stories. Over time, Marcia weaves these stories into personalized verses to the songs. 

process of aging is a profound experience marked by increasing physical, cognitive, and emotional change and a heightened search for meaning and purpose. Numerous studies have shown that the arts can serve as a powerful way to engage elders in a creative and healing process of self-expression that has many positive benefits. In particular, studies have shown that professionally conducted arts programs can lead to better mental and physical health and increased involvement in activities. (See below for links to some of the most relevant studies.) As a result, the emerging field of creative aging is generating interest and enthusiasm across the country. Creative, participatory programs are a fun and cost-effective way to improve quality of life and maintain physical and mental health.

Moving Melodies workshops are 60 or 90 minutes, and are offered at senior community centers, elder care facilities, assisted living communities, and private sessions on a weekly or biweekly basis. Marcia customizes her sessions to meet the needs of all participants. Please contact her for more information or to schedule a workshop!


"Marcia has performed [Moving Melodies] workshops at Glacier Hills Senior Living Community since January of this year. Our residents truly enjoy the music and movement, as well as the attention to personal detail that is involved in this activity time. They love to sing and dance, and to hear Marcia play music. The workshop is one of their favorite afternoon times. They enjoy offering suggestions as to how to utilize the time with Marcia and the other participants. Ms. Mai truly has a gift for working with seniors."

Gail Pacurai, Life Enrichment Coordinator
Glacial Hills Senior Living Community
(August 2013)


Marcia's cherished friend Bob D has been the catalyst for the creation of Moving Melodies. 

"When I first met Bob through Michigan Peaceworks in 2003, he was 79 and already long active in Veterans for Peace. When he was 81, he led the peace float in the Ann Arbor 4th of July parade, using a walker because he had recently had surgery. When he was 83, he helped me to rototill my front lawn so that it could become an urban vegetable garden. He is an inspiration to me (and to many others), and we bonded over our shared passions for peace and fresh produce.

"In 2011, Bob was diagnosed with early dementia. As my dear friend slid into a depression, I searched for some tangible way to help him feel better. While researching 'best practice' activities for people with dementia, I discovered that dancing and making music were the most beneficial activities for enhancing brain functioning and mood. As a professional dancer and musician, I was ideally equipped to develop a participatory arts program for my friend, which I happily proceeded to do.

"Bob and I have done weekly Moving Melodies workshops for more than a year now. We've discovered that he has a good singing voice, and despite having no previous experience, he can dance with great feeling. Bob is able to sing seven songs from memory, and we dance together to two songs. We have co-created four verses about his life that we sing to the tune of "You Are My Sunshine." It is obvious that Bob enjoys the sessions and gets a feeling of accomplishment from being able to learn something new and do it well." 

This video was made in April 2013, two years after Bob's diagnosis of early dementia. After the film shoot he said, "Now that was a productive afternoon!"

Bob’s life story, sung to the tune of "You Are My Sunshine": 

I went away to a boarding high school. It was the first time I left home. / And it felt like going to heaven - an escape from an unhappy home.

I found ways to make people like me, just by being a nice guy. / I fell in love there, for the first time. A love that I felt from afar.

I worked and saved to attend the U of M, where I got drafted to fight in World War II. / When I came back to major in psychology, I made life-long friends living in co-op housing.

I always say that I've been a lucky guy! I count my blessings, giving back all that I can. / With friends and family at the big lake house, with Veterans for Peace, advocating for peace now!


Several studies have found that professionally conducted arts programs can greatly benefit older adults. In particular, a national, multi-site study known as The Creativity and Aging Study found that, compared to a control group, seniors engaged in an intensive cultural program reported better health, fewer doctor visits, decreased medication usage, better mental health, and more involvement in overall activities at one-year and two-year follow-up assessments. Conducted by The George Washington University in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, this study demonstrated impressive stabilization of health and even improvements in health over a significant period of time, even with participants whose average age at the beginning of the study was approximately 80.

Two studies on the groundbreaking KAIROS Dancing HeartTM program, which combines dancing and storytelling, have shown concrete benefits to program participants. Both studies examined the impact of the program on nursing home residents, and both found that participation in the program led to increased quality of life. From one of those studies, "The Importance of a Creative Dance Program for the Quality of Life of Long Term Care Residents":

Results indicate that participation in the sessions encouraged increased physicality, personal validation and reminiscence as well as a sense of “flow.” In response to the second research question, results suggest that music and dance positively impacted participants’ quality of life through the building of new memories, bonding, sharing of joint meaning and creative expression, experiences of fun and excitement, as well as feelings of sacredness and healing. The results for the perceived impact of a creative arts-program on the nursing home show a positive culture change through increased personal interactions between residents and staff and facility-wide interest in art-based programming.1

Other interesting articles include one on listening to long-familiar music and memory function, one on dance classes for those with Parkinson's Disease, one on creative storytelling and memory loss, one on acting classes and cognitive function, and one on creativity and longevity.

The National Center for Creative Aging

Workshop on Research Gaps and Opportunities for Exploring the Relationship of the Arts to Health and Well-Being in Older Adults
*see especially the video for Panel 2

The Center on Aging, Health, and Humanities at George Washington University

Arts for the Aging

KAIROS Dancing HeartTM

Center on Age & Community


Dance Exchange's MetLife Foundation Healthy Living Initiative

Creative Aging Mid-South
1Schafer, Kelsey Kristine, "Importance of a Creative Dance Program for the Quality of Life of Long Term Care Residents" (2011). Master of Arts in Occupational Therapy Theses. Paper 4. See p. 7.