These physical therapists have a magical way to get kids at hospitals up and moving

(NEW YORK) — The hospital isn’t always a magical place for children, especially those who have an extended stay. But one group is working to change that.

Fairytale Physical Therapy is made of students, physical therapists and performers who volunteer their time to put on performances of popular fairy tales at children’s hospitals across the country.

What’s magical about Fairytale Physical Therapy is that it combines the magic of theater with physical therapy by having the patients learn choreography.

“The movements that we do in the choreography are therapeutic movements. That means it comes from a physical therapist mindset,” Fairytale Physical Therapy co-founder Jenna Kantor explained.

“Something as simple as marching can be activating your abdominals and also working your balance, which is something [the patients] don’t get to do on a regular basis because they are spending most of their time sitting or laying in a bed,” she said.

Kantor co-founded Fairytale Physical Therapy nearly four years ago with her classmate, Katie Schmidt, when she was a physical therapy graduate student at Columbia University. The two shared a passion for musical theater and wanted to creatively combine their desire to perform with their physical therapy skills.

From that passion, Fairytale Physical Therapy originally consisted solely of physical therapists, but has expanded over the years and brought on professional performers as well as other volunteers.

“Being in the hospital is really hard,” Sharon Granville, director of Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, told ABC News’ Good Morning America.

“You might possibly have an experience that could be a little scary. And having a chance to come, and enjoy a fun show with singing and acting is just a nice way to spend an afternoon,” she said.

The group recently performed The Snow Queen at New York-Presbyterian Komansky Children’s Hospital in New York City. Kantor, alongside six other professional performers, recreated a rendition of Disney’s Frozen with recognizable characters and sing-alongs from the musical.

Nearly half a dozen children attended the show along with their parents.

Rocio Manrique, whose daughter is a patient at the hospital, was moved to tears by the performance.

“Now that I saw the performance with the people, the artists who have done all this … one feels more hopeful of fighting against the children’s disease, as if you have the illusion of seeing something that someone sings that will bring you joy, a smile,” she said.

Following the show, children get a coloring book with directions on how to recreate the choreography they learned so they can continue to heal and recover. The actors also take time to do arts and crafts with the kids.

Kevin Joseph, 11, is a patient at the hospital who spent time with his favorite character, Olaf, who even drew a portrait of him.

“This was really a fun experience and they did a really good job,” Kevin told GMA.

For the performers, though, it all comes back to one thing: the kids.

“Even though I can sit there and sing and feel so good in rehearsals, once you’re in front of the kids, it does not matter,” Kantor said. “You are giving that escape and those healthy movements to them, and that is why it is going for more than four years now.”

She hopes that Fairytale Physical Therapy will continue to grow and encourages anyone who would like to get involved to reach out. Eventually, she’d like Fairytale Physical Therapy to be able to offer its services at every children’s hospital.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up