From black belt to bachata: How Thien is transforming lives through movement at Parafield Gardens
Thien is a dedicated physiotherapist with a passion for bringing the joy of dance to people in aged care. With nearly a decade of experience at Helping Hand, he has been on a unique journey to transform the wellbeing of our clients through compassionate support and meaningful steps towards more enriched lives.

A man of many talents

Most people who meet Thien for the first time wouldn’t suspect that he’s a black belt in various forms of mixed martial arts and owns his own dance studio. He’s friendly and well-spoken, often smiling as he speaks. However, one thing’s for sure: Thien is a competent and qualified physiotherapist with a deep compassion for our community clients and residents at our aged care home in Parafield Gardens.

Thien’s journey began in Woodville, in Northeast Adelaide. From a young age, with the help of an important role model, he had a clear vision for the path he wished to take in his life.

“I grew up learning martial arts as a child,” says Thien. “My instructor at the time was also a physiotherapist. I remember how inspired I was by the way he could teach martial arts, and then if someone got injured, he’d be able to help them recover. I knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps and be able to inspire and help people in the same way.”

After completing high school, Thien pursued a Bachelor of Physiotherapy at the University of South Australia and began his career in private practice. However, as a new graduate, he found the fast-paced nature of the job left little room for building close relationships with clients, so he ventured out to find a career where he could make a bigger impact.

“I tried out various areas of physiotherapy such as private practice, WorkCover (Occupational Health and Safety), and rehabilitation, and in the end, I decided aged care is what I enjoy the most. That’s why I came to Helping Hand, and that’s why I’ve been here for almost 10 years.”

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Changing lives, one step at a time

A career at Helping Hand enables Thien to combine his passion for helping older people with his love of dance. Through his “Dance for Balance” classes, he brings the joy of movement to our clients’ lives.

“Dancing and martial arts are very similar,” says Thien. “They both require good hand-eye coordination, footwork and balance. These skills have helped me a lot in my life. I noticed that most of the exercise classes in aged care can feel a bit repetitive after a while, so I thought, how can I make things more fun and engaging while achieving the same outcome?”

After identifying a need for an alternate movement-focused activity, Thien drafted a proposal for an age-appropriate dance class incorporating his love of Latin dance, specifically Bachata. Once approved by his manager, he developed the program and that’s how the Dance for Balance program was born. With a focus on skill levels and safety, Thien carries out a physical assessment of each participant and modifies dance steps and music tempo accordingly.

“The transformation in some of our clients has been incredible. By improving their strength and balance, their ability to walk without aids has significantly improved. But it’s not just physical; there’s a social aspect to it as well. For some participants who might have been dancers in the past, it brings back a lot of good memories, and they say, ‘Oh, I haven’t done this since I was young.’ And that’s wonderful to see.”

Bridging care and joy

A typical day for Thien starts with reviewing the referrals for the day and addressing high-priority tasks, especially those related to injury and safety concerns. After this, he leads the “Strong and Steady” exercise group before carrying out care plan reviews and providing pain management through massage for clients.

“Our Strong and Steady program is based on a government-approved program to help reduce the risk of falls. I find it personally rewarding to see how much joy our clients get from attending the sessions and being able to improve their balance and strength in a fun and engaging group setting.”

Thien takes a lot of pride and care in his work as a physiotherapist because he understands that each individual moment, no matter how small, can have a big impact on an older person’s life. Looking to the future, Thien is excited about growing the reach of his dance classes and bringing joy through movement to many more people in the community.

“I’ve been teaching martial arts since I was 16, and now I run my own dance school called Adelaide Bachata Academy. I’m passionate about dance and its ability to transform people’s lives. In the future, I’d like to run more dance classes and spread more awareness on the benefits of dance for both young and older people. I think that’s my calling. Dancing builds a sense of community and allows people to express themselves. It provides both physical and mental refreshment, helps to improve strength, balance and flexibility and reduces the risk of Dementia. And I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to make an impact and do something different at Helping Hand.”

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