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Photo of a Coralee McLaren dancing.
Photo by Cyella Von Tiedemann

Finding Joy in Movement

Dancer-turned-nurse Coralee McLaren helps children with physical disabilities

In a world where people increasingly have a distinct second act – accountant turned lion tamer, for example – Coralee McLaren has figured out a way to combine two seemingly disparate passions into one remarkable pursuit. McLaren (BScN 2004), a former dancer with the Toronto Dance Theatre, is currently pursuing a PhD in nursing science at U of T. Her research integrates her background in movement with the physical experiences of children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy.

When she decided to retrain as a nurse, McLaren thought she would have to make a clean break from her past in the arts. “But I figured out how I might link my understanding of the body to asking health-care questions about childhood disability,” she says. The core premise behind her research holds that certain movements and gestures, often found in play, are key for reaching peak cognitive and communicative development.

McLaren has studied the movements of children in an integrated kindergarten class, and is exploring the relationship between the children’s physicality and the properties of the classroom. “There is very little understanding about how any child moves in any environment, or how physical environments may be affecting children’s movement,” says McLaren, who has worked as a nurse at the Hospital for Sick Children.

McLaren is aiming to finish her doctorate in fall 2012. She hopes her research – supervised by Prof. Patricia McKeever – will help improve the quality of life for children with physical disabilities, and inspire a shift in how educational and health-care environments are designed. McLaren says that her work has provided plenty of moments of encouragement. “When I was interacting with the children, and saw the kind of intelligence and sophistication they brought to their movement…that was a true highlight.”

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