The Beat Goes On

When she was five years old, Michelle Fontes started dancing with her father at the Portuguese Club in Perth Amboy, NJ. And she continued dancing there until she was 19. “Portuguese people love two things,” she says, “Food and drinks and dancing. If you go to a party, and we know you are not Portuguese, we will still try to get you to join us.”

portuguese day tj

Michelle Fontes gives a dance lesson to adult patient T.J. Christian.

That’s exactly what Fontes, an adult services life skills coach, did during a Portuguese Day celebration at Matheny, coaxing Matheny staff members and adult patients to get out on the dance floor. She demonstrated three Portuguese dances: the Vira, the Bato Pe, and the Marcha. The Vira means ‘turns’, and “that’s what we do the most of,” she says. “There are many forms of turning, and how fast or slow you go is based on the beat of the drum.” The Bato Pe is a line dance, and the Marcha is a two-person dance – “You just march in place with the music.”

The adult services program is designed to instill a sense of self-respect and self-expression among adult residents at Matheny and its group homes.