When Sarah Fay’s father-in-law was dying of cancer last spring, Fay and her family went to England to say goodbye to him. There, Fay’s daughter, Lily, who is a dancer at InnerRhythms in Truckee, performed for him in his hospital room.

“It just gave him a moment,” Fay said. “He said it was so beautiful. It let him escape for a minute from thinking about being sick. It was uplifting and joyful.”

This gave Fay, who is the executive director of InnerRhythms, an idea. Why not bring young dancers into Tahoe Forest Hospital to entertain patients and uplift their spirits? Lucky for her, the treasurer for the dance studio and chair of its Inner Wellness program, Hillary Bayliss, is also a nurse at Tahoe Forest Hospital. In March, InnerRhythms did a test run of its Ballet Care Package program at TFH’s neurology department.

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TINY DANCERS: (above) InnerRhythms dancers Ruby Bayliss (left) and Lily Fay perform at Tahoe Forest Hospital’s neurology department in March as part of the studio’s first Ballet Care Package program. Photo courtesy Hillary Bayliss

Part of the mission of InnerRhythms, which was founded in 2002 as a nonprofit, is to give back to the community. The studio is no stranger to performing for patients. Dancers have been coming to TFH’s long-term care facility over the holidays for many years. But before fully launching their Ballet Care Package in a clinical setting, InnerRhythms wanted to run a pilot program first. They started with only two dancers, Lily, age 16, and Bayliss’s daughter, Ruby, 14. On March 8, they performed in the lobby of the neurology department.

“We wanted to keep it small to try it out,” Bayliss said. “There is carpet [ballet dancers normally perform on a hard surface] and all those little logistics. We did a Friday afternoon on purpose without too many patients to make sure it would work — the girls had never seen the space before.”

With the help of Dr. Cherisse Mwero, around 20 people showed up to watch Lily and Ruby dance, mostly staff with a handful of patients. The girls showed a quick 2-minute ballet to “Idea 10” by Mexican composer Gibran Alcocer.

“There were a lot of smiles everywhere, a lot of applause afterwards,” said Fay, noting that another nurse approached them about bringing the Ballet Care Package to the cancer center.

Both Fay and Bayliss say that watching young dancers perform offers patients a respite from their current situation and brings joy to them in a time of need.

“Any kind of art, in my opinion, is one of those things that can really touch someone’s soul, and I feel this is a clear way of doing that,” Fay said. “It means a lot to me and to our students.” 

The dancers also benefit from the arrangement. 

“Ruby really enjoys giving back,” Bayliss said. “She gets a sense that if she can make someone else feel happier, it makes her feel happy.”

Now that Bayliss and Fay know the Ballet Care Package program can work, they asked the studio’s ballet director to put on a small workshop by the end of June where students can learn choreography to a few pieces to perform in the hospital. They also want to get the word out about the program to the public and medical professionals.

DANCE TO HEAL: InnerRhythms dancers Lily Fay (left) and Ruby Bayliss with Dr. Cherisse Mwero, who helped organized the first Ballet Care Package at Tahoe Forest Hospital’s neurology department on March 8. Photo courtesy Hillary Bayliss

“Our hope is to continue this kind of outreach at the [long-term] care facility and spread it to the community and see how we can share a little bit of joy when people’s health really isn’t what it was before,” Bayliss said.

It’s no surprise, then, that InnerRhythms invited another community member who performs for patients to be one of its eight stars at its big fundraiser of the year, Dancing With Our Sierra Stars, on May 11. Ryan Brolliar, who attended North Tahoe High School, is a PE teacher and head football coach at his alma mater. He is also a musician who found a calling playing for hospital patients. 

In 2017, Brolliar was working as a professional musician — he plays the guitar, piano, ukulele, harmonica, and sings — when doctors found a benign tumor on his spine. After surgery and relearning to walk, Brolliar decided to visit 50 hospitals in 50 states to perform for the ill. An EMT-friend gave him an ambulance, which he named the Jambulance, and he hit the road, playing in 83 hospitals in 50 states over 9 months. He called his tour the Music as Medicine tour. He also wrote a book titled the same.

“It was the coolest thing I have ever done,” Brolliar said.

At first he performed in children’s centers or for the elderly, but then he started getting calls to sing for people on their death beds, do home visits, and go to veterans centers. Brolliar does not perform at schools, churches, or parties.

JAMMIN’ FOR THE SICK: North Tahoe High School teacher and football coach Ryan Brolliar started his Music as Medicine tour in 2017, playing music for patients in 83 hospitals in all 50 states. He traveled in his Jambulance, often turning on the sirens as he appraoched a hospital. Photos courtesy Ryan Brolliar

“I sing for people in need,” he said. “When people are that vulnerable, there is no bullshit. There are no walls up. They are just raw. You see that person and you are there just to be with them, heart to heart, spirit to spirit. Doctors and parents are worried about curing the sickness, but I am there to be with them.”

Just as with Ruby and Lily, Brolliar receives as much as he gives.

“It brings me to tears every time,” he said. “Something that’s so easy for me … Just being yourself and doing something you love brings such an impact to people’s lives. It makes me feel like I am making a difference in the world, being of service. I know I can die and be at peace.”

MUSIC MAN: (right) Ryan Brolliar has been playing weekly for Cindy Haney at her Tahoe City home. She is pictured here with her son Chad, granddaughter Quinn, and Brolliar with his guitar and book that he wrote about his tour. Photo by Jared Alden/Moonshine Ink

Brolliar has performed a few times at TFH and Reno hospitals, but had to stop during the pandemic. He is so busy with coaching and teaching that he hasn’t returned to a medical setting, but he is currently doing home visits for a local woman who is suffering from Parkinson’s. His goal is to eventually perform at prisons. 

“Hospitals are the most sterile place,” Brolliar said, “but when I go in with music it brings light.” 

Author

  • Melissa Siig

    Melissa Siig ditched international politics in Washington, D.C. in 2001 to move to Tahoe, where she quickly found her true calling — journalism. She has written for regional and national publications, and enjoys writing about community issues and quirky human interest stories. When not at her keyboard, she is busy wrangling her three children, co-running Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema, or playing outside.

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