KITE scientist earns CIHR grant to incorporate traditions from marginalized communities into seniors’ dance program

New funding will support Dr. Pia Kontos’ efforts to collaborate with organizations in Black, Chinese, and South Asian communities in order to integrate their traditions into the Sharing Dance Older Adults program

KITE Senior Scientist Dr. Pia Kontos has received a $750,000 Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Institute of Aging Implementation Science Team Grant.

This funding supports projects that evaluate the effectiveness of existing programs, services, and models of care that show promise for those impacted by cognitive impairment and dementia. An important focus is improving equitable and inclusive access to care and support.

Dr. Rachel Bar, Director of Research and Health at Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS), is a co-principal applicant for this grant. 

The duo received this funding for leading an initiative to incorporate the cultural traditions of historically marginalized communities into a dance program for seniors called Sharing Dance Older Adults (SDOA). 

“I’m extremely grateful to receive this grant. It is such an important affirmation of the power of the arts to support people to live well with dementia and we don't often see investment in programs like this,” said Dr. Kontos, who is a professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

“The predominant assumption is people living with dementia don't have the capacity to be creative. However, we know through extensive research that dance, and particularly this program, powerfully supports people living with dementia, to be creative and to flourish. And flourishing should be a goal that we all aspire to.” 

SDOA is a dance program jointly developed by the NBS and Baycrest in 2013 for older adults with a range of physical and cognitive abilities, including dementia.

Typically, dance programs in dementia care settings are provided as a therapeutic intervention for older adults. However, SDOA’s goal is to provide a creative outlet for participants and opportunities for social interaction with other people living with dementia, staff, and loved ones. 

Dancer Not Dementia, a short documentary film Dr. Kontos co-produced, captured the power of SDOA to challenge the stigma associated with dementia, support social inclusion, and enrich lives. It is told through the eyes of residents and staff at Alexis Lodge Dementia Care Residence and Cedarhurst Dementia Care Home in Toronto.

The three-year CIHR grant will support SDOA efforts to partner with organizations in Black, Chinese, and South Asian communities to integrate their cultural practices into its programming.

Training dancers from these communities to teach the adapted program is central to these partnerships.  

“People living with dementia from marginalized communities rarely have their traditions honored with art and leisure programming,” said Dr. Kontos.

“It's important to align dance programs with the cultural traditions of these communities. Otherwise, the music and movements wouldn’t reflect the experiences of ethno-culturally diverse populations, and the programs wouldn’t be inclusive. We wouldn’t be supporting their capacity to be creative or to be in relationships with others through dance. We would be falling short.”

SDOA has already partnered with Alexis Lodge, Alzheimer Society of Canada, Baycrest, NBS, Indus Community Services, Social Planning Council of Ottawa, and Yee Hong for this initiative.

Organizations or individuals interested in collaborating with SDOA are encouraged to reach out to Dr. Kontos at or Dr. Bar at