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Cane Empowerment

September 25, 2019

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Perhaps seen as a sign of fragility, an exercise and self defense class seeks to transform the walking cane into a conduit for strength.

There’s nothing wrong with needing a cane to get around. In fact, two local experts on the human body and aging, say that the cane can be used for so much more than just offering support while walking. Their new exercise and self defense class aims to train New Orleans cane users on the various ways their staff can be used as exercise equipment, a safety device, and a self defense tool.

Dr. Michael Dancisak, director of the Center for Anatomical and Movement Science at Tulane University, grew up around canes. His father, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, was reluctant to use his cane at first, then something happened. His father realized that the cane is a very versatile tool — much more than just a stick to lean on. That philosophy stuck with Dancisak.

Good posture is the key to cane exercise.

Then, almost 15 years ago, Dimitri Papadopoulos, a martial arts teacher and an instructor of biology at Delgado Community College, walked into one of Dancisak’s classes at Tulane. Soon after, Dancisak shared with Papadopoulos that he’d been thinking of a way to share his cane knowledge with those who needed it most — cane users. 

After years of developing specific exercises and multiple uses for the cane, the two men debuted their first exercise and self defense class this past May.

“The purpose of this program is to change the concept of the cane to one of empowerment,” Papadopoulos says. We want the aging population to see the cane not as a crutch, but rather as a powerful tool, and as such, something that can improve their well being.”

Swiss Army Cane

The program focuses on four different techniques that each teach a different facet of the various cane uses. First, participants learn how to properly walk with a cane. 

“This is something that may seem simple enough at first glance, but when you actually attempt to walk with a cane, you realize that it may not be so obvious,” Papadopoulos says.

This includes how to measure for the right cane size: The top of cane, or the crook, should reach where a wrist watch would rest if the arm is hanging straight down. If the cane is too tall, you’ll end up using more arm strength to hold yourself up, says Dancisak.

The second teaches 30 different cane exercises, which can be performed from a sitting or standing position, and help to strengthen the core muscles. 

Dancisak and Papadopoulos demonstrate a self defense maneuver.

The third covers cane safety — using the cane as a buffer for moving objects. During the class, Dancisak and Papadopoulos rolls a soccer ball towards the participants, showing them how to properly hold or maneuver their canes in order to stop or deflect the ball. 

“A good example of this would be a scenario where some kids are playing ball close by, and the ball rolls out of play toward the individual who is holding the cane,” Papadopoulos says. The individual now can use the cane to deflect the path of the ball, and there are exercises that can help improve the individual’s technique in doing so.”

The final technique demonstrates how the cane can be used as a self defense tool — using the crook of the cane to grab, pull, or swing —  to boost self awareness and self confidence with cane walkers.

A participant learns how to know if her cane is at the right height.

Walk in Style

Their second class, held in July at the Kinship Senior Center, Uptown, hosted around 15 participants. However, not all of them were convinced that a cane is in their future.

“One reason I don’t want a cane is that it reminds me of what’s next,” one participant said.

Both Dancisak and Papadopoulos — who use cane in their daily lives with exercising and even massaging — went on the defense. Their goal isn’t only to make the cane a kind of extension of the

person, but also an extension of the personality. Just as eyeglasses are medical devices, but come in different shapes and colors, canes can be just as reflective.

“There’s a stigma around canes, but it’s been around for hundreds of years,” Dancisak said. “We’re going to make the cane popular again. Look for a style that fits your personality, that expresses who you are.”

Tim Meyer is Nola Boomer’s managing editor.

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