Columbus, OH,
17:28 PM

Secret Lives: Doctor dances between brains and the ballroom

Secret Lives is an ongoing series that shares the unusual past careers and unique hobbies of OhioHealth associates, physicians, and volunteers.

Marla Bruns, MD, PhD, is a neurologist at the OhioHealth John J. Gerlach Center for Senior Health. She’s also an avid ballroom dancer.

Over the past six years, Dr. Bruns has spent much of her free time honing the quickstep, waltz, foxtrot, tango, rumba, cha cha and numerous other partner dances at the Fred Astaire Columbus Northwest dance studio. She also participates regularly in ballroom dancing competitions, often performing dozens of dances in a single event.

“It’s become an escape and a stress release,” says Dr. Bruns, who by day works with patients suffering from dementia. “Dancing makes you feel carefree. During that 45 minutes of a lesson, I’m just there, dancing for me.”

Dancing isn’t just about taking time out for herself, however. Dr. Bruns also wants to set an example for her patients. Ask her about the impact of physical activity, particularly dance, on brain disease and the neurologist talks passionately about statistics and studies showing it can delay and even prevent dementia. In fact, a 2003 study in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that dancing reduces the risk of dementia by 76 percent.

“I try to practice what I preach. I always tell my patients being active physically, mentally and socially is the best thing they can do for their brains,” she says.

“Most of my patients grew up dancing and doing social dancing, so talking about ballroom dancing with my patients helps open up a bond.”

Last November, Dr. Bruns got to combine her dual passion for memory care and dancing. She and a team of dancers from Fred Astaire competed in the Columbus Dance Challenge, calling themselves the “Forget Me Nots.” Through entry fees and donations, they raised $2,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association. Dr. Bruns also won a trophy for “most spirited female.” The physician was especially happy that some of her patients came out to watch.

“I remember being emotional that night when they gave me that trophy andthen the check to turn into the association,” she says. “Having one weekend to draw central Ohio’s dance community together to bring their attention to Alzheimer’s seems small, but I think it made a big impact.”