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'Medicine within the dance': from health-care worker to hoop dancer

Since the outbreak of novel coronavirus, Makhena Katerie Rankin Guérin has brought her hoop and jingle-dress dancing to the seniors living in lockdown at Symphony Senior Living Orléans, where she works.

Pikogan teen dances for seniors in isolation in Ottawa where she works

Makhena Katerie Rankin Guérin, a 17-year-old from Pikogan, Que., is sharing her love of traditional dancing with seniors at Symphony Senior Living Orleans where she works. 0:14

For Makhena Katerie Rankin Guérin, traditional dancing has long been about healing. 

Now, the 17-year-old, who works as a support worker at an Ottawa seniors residence, is able to really see that in action. 

Since the outbreak of novel coronavirus, Guérin has been living at Symphony Senior Living Orléans in east Ottawa, where she has worked for the last three years. 

During the day, she's helping the nurses care for the people living there. When she's not working, she's volunteering and also sharing her love for traditional dancing. 

"The thing I find fascinating about dance is the medicine within the dance," said Guérin, who is Algonquin and Cree with roots in Pikogan, in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region of Quebec and the Cree community of Waskaganish, Que.. She grew up in the Ottawa-area.

She moved into the home at the beginning of the pandemic in March because her mom has systemic lupus erythematosus, an auto-immune disease, and was at particular risk with Guérin coming and going from work. 

It's emotional, spiritual, mental and even physical medicine.- Makhena Katerie Rankin Guérin, dancer and senior support worker

Since moving in at the residence, Guérin has danced a few times, sharing both the hoop dance and the jingle-dress dance with residents.

"It's medicine for the dancer, but it's also medicine for the people [watching] ... the way you feel when you look at a dancer. It's emotional, spiritual, mental and even physical medicine," she said. 

Guérin said one of the seniors at the home suffers from anxiety and was quite interested by the jingle dance, so Guérin offered to dance for her, if ever she was feeling anxious. 

"She thought I was kidding but when she found out I wasn't, her eyes filled with tears and in my three years of working ... I've never seen her this happy," Guérin said. 

"That's the medicinal dance working." 

"It's a true honour to be able to use my medicine to heal the elderly that I care for in my community," Makhena Katerie Rankin Guérin said. (City of Ottawa)

For Jodi Davidson, the executive director of Symphony Senior Living Orleans, Guérin's presence and the connection she has with the seniors has been a real positive addition to the community during the lockdown.

"She's exceptional. She has a real caring attitude," Davidson said. "She's definitely going above and beyond right now to try and make sure that these people feel the love."

Davidson said Guérin has also spent a good deal of time answering questions about her dancing and her culture and has become an important part of the home's efforts to keep the residents entertained and engaged. 

"Makhena approached us with ideas and we've just given [her] the platform to kind of flourish in here, which has been really exciting," Davidson said. The administration has been sharing videos of the dances and other activities organized on their Facebook page, an important way to keep family engaged. 

Guérin said she is very happy to be sharing with the seniors in her community. 

"It's a true honour to be able to use my medicine to heal the elderly that I care for in my community," she said. "In the colonized society that we live in we focus so much on the physical aspect of health, we forget to see the human being as a complete being." 

"She's exceptional. She has a real caring attitude," said Jodi Davidson, executive director of Symphony Senior Living Orleans, where Guérin works. (City of Ottawa)

Guérin hopes to learn as much as she can about traditional healing and perhaps study nursing. She said dancing has made it so much clearer to her that there is much beyond western ideas of medicine. 

"I always knew that I was meant to work in the health-care system," Guérin said.  

"When I started dancing and I started noticing that there are different types of medicine ... not only physical medicine. Our medicine wheel reminds us that to be healthy, we need to be balanced." 

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