Music has a power that can be hard to describe but instantly recognized. We remember information better when it’s put to a tune. When we learn songs written in other languages, we pronounce those words with less of our native accent. Music is incredibly emotionally bound, and a snippet of a song can take us right back to specific times and places.
A simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking example of that has recently gone viral in a video originally shared by the Spanish organization Asociación Música para Despertar.
In the caption of the video, the organization explained that the woman had Alzheimer’s, and the video was an example of the power of music. It was filmed in Valencia, Spain, in 2019, shortly before the woman’s passing.
The YouTube version of the video opened to an elderly woman seated in a wheelchair, wearing a pair of headphones. As music from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” played, the woman swept a hand feebly and then appeared to wave it off.
As the music continued, the woman seemed to sit a little taller and a spark snuck into her movements. Her eyes bright, she moved her arms gracefully and appeared to be reliving a moment.
“The immense Marta C. González Saldaña (Marta Cinta), may she Rest in Peace, She founded and directed her own ballet ensemble in New York called ‘Rosamunda,’ being the principal dancer, choreographer and director of it,” the caption reads.
The Alzheimer’s Society shared the clip on Twitter.
“Ballerina Marta C. Gonzalez — who lived with dementia — is taken back to her days dancing in Swan Lake thanks to the power of music,” they wrote.
“This clip shows what an important tool music can be for people with dementia. So beautiful to see!”
Ballerina Marta C. Gonzalez – who lived with dementia – is taken back to her days dancing in Swan Lake thanks to the power of music.
— Alzheimer’s Society (@alzheimerssoc) November 9, 2020
Many have found the video touching and bittersweet. Others — especially those with a deeper education on the topic — had some questions.
Most notably, Alastair Macaulay, writer and dance critic, has uncovered some fascinating information pertaining to the moving video.
“González’s movement therapist is to be congratulated: this is a touching video,” he wrote in his own post. “Nonetheless, a few pedantic points should be made. A: She isn’t remembering specific choreography from ‘Swan Lake’; she’s simply moving in a generalised ‘Swan Lake’ style to some of its most powerful music. (‘Who wouldn’t move to that?’ replied one of the former dancers to whom I sent this.)
“B: It’s complicated to explain, but at the end we’re hearing the original 1877 version of the score, whereas most companies use the revised 1895 score, which excludes part of what we hear here and to which she goes on moving.
“C: To make matters messier, the video is interleaved with footage of Yuliana Lopatkina dancing surely ‘The Dying Swan’, which has very different music by another composer.
“D: Some of the commentary describes González as a NYC prima ballerina: so far I have found nobody who remembers a New York dancer named Marta C. González, and that name is not listed among New York City Ballet’s alumni.”
Macaulay also managed to track down a document from 1966 with Marta C. González’ name, from “The Higher School for Professional Studies, Nueva York” that states that a 19-year-old González was given the title Prima Ballerina in “Ballet de las Américas.”
After that, the paper trail ran cold, and he was unable to find the actual school listed on the document, though with a little help he did manage to find photos from more recent years of González with young ballet dancers.
He made sure to include that “If you’re moved by the video, as many are, then it’s actually more marvellous to find this glimpse of dance inspiration amid the dementia of a largely unknown dancer,” as well as state, “When I get dementia (as both my parents did), I only hope I can move with half such refinement.”
While the clips of the young ballerina shown in the viral video may not be the same woman reminiscing in the wheelchair, and it’s unclear if or where González earned her title, it’s incredibly clear that, all else aside, she had an experience when that piece played, an experience that many viewers have felt touched by as they watched miles away and months later. And it’s all thanks to music.
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