Mary E. Cartales
MS, MA, DMT, INPP Certified Licentiate
As a child, I found it impossible to understand a math problem that required more than 2 steps but could remember 20 full dance combinations at a time. Even with a tutor, nothing made sense to me when it came to math. My parents thought I didn’t focus; my teachers thought I didn’t apply myself. My 2nd-grade teacher simply told me I was “stupid.”
I didn’t know how to explain to my parents and teachers that solving math problems was for me, like trying to read complicated directions in a language I’d never been exposed to. No amount of studying, remedial instruction, or tutoring had a positive impact on my skills. The negative impact was that I started to believe I was stupid.
Teaching children’s dance classes to support myself through college eventually took me into
elementary school classrooms where I was able to use the medium of movement to help
children who were struggling with academic subjects.
Many children couldn’t follow simple movement patterns or hear the beat of the music. These
happened to be the children who were struggling academically. My “aha” moment was when I
realized that if these children could not understand and execute a simple movement sequence -
which is a physical, tangible activity they probably cannot conceive of understanding a
sequence that requires abstract thinking! To learn about sentence structure, we explored the
concept of “beginning, middle and end” through movement patterns. To enhance reading
skills, we developed a movement language with specific movements representing punctuation
symbols. Addition and subtraction were easy to understand when the students used their
bodies as manipulatives.
For over 20 years, I’ve steered my work towards helping children who struggle with learning,
behavioral and emotional challenges. Working in elementary and pre-schools, after-school
programs, hospitals, social service agencies and as a private instructor/practitioner I continue to
design and facilitate movement-based programs for children of all ages.
Through extensive studies in movement, psychology, and neurology including a Master of
Science in Dance/Movement Therapy, Post-graduate studies in Laban Movement Analysis and
Bartenieff Fundamentals™, and Certification in Neuro-Developmental Delay remediation I’ve
learned that my math problem is actually a retained Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex – a physical
problem. Additionally, I am a kinesthetic learner. I learn through my body. What a relief to
learn that I’m not “stupid.”
No child should ever feel stupid. I am privileged to be able to use the medium of movement to
help children reach their full potential.