DANCE: THE NEW PARKINSON’S REMEDY
movement disorder and other neurodegenerative conditions are being encouraged to dance with abandon via the introduction of the Dance for PD program (danceforparkinsonsaustralia.org).
“Some people with Parkinson’s disease can’t walk but they can dance,” neurologist Dr Neil Mahant, of Sydney’s Westmead Hospital, says. “We think it’s because dancing involves slightly different brain networks. The networks for walking can be affected by Parkinson’s but the ones for dancing are spared.”
Another major benefit of dancing is how it counteracts the way Parkinson’s slows a person’s body down. “High intensity and exaggerated activities could improve symptoms because people with it think they’re moving at a normal size [range] but they’re barely moving,” Mahant says.
“Exaggerated movements in Dance for PD can help them overcome that scaling of movement,” he adds. “Practising larger movements in class can carry through into daily life.”
Dance for PD – which strives to find partner funding to make classes available to the community for free – offers other benefits such as joy, a morale boost and improved balance and mobility.
“We aim to give people freedom of movement,” Dance for PD teacher Kate Duncan explains. Duncan launched Sydney’s first class at Rozelle’s Hannaford Centre in October 2013 and, earlier this month, with fellow dance teacher Erica Rose Jeffrey, she instructed at the Dance for PD teacher training and masterclass hosted by Bangarra Dance Theatre in Sydney. “The music, which is usually live, sets [sufferer’s] bodies free and they often forget about their limited range of motion,” Duncan says.
IN STEP WITH THERAPY
Dance for PD began in the US in 2001, when the Mark Morris Dance Group teamed up with the Brooklyn Parkinson Group. Classes are partly seated, partners and carers are welcome and students are encouraged to modify the ballet, modern, jazz, tap and improvised moves to suit them.
Dance for PD’s co-founding teacher David Leventhal says that by “learning choreography and new movement sequences, people with Parkinson’s can develop useful cognitive strategies and regain a sense of self-esteem and grace”. Leventhal and Jeffrey, who’s the program coordinator, held a teacher training workshop last May, hosted by Queensland Ballet. It led to creation of classes in Canberra, Victoria, Sydney and Nowra on the NSW south coast.
“Each participant has a unique experience and what appears to be a small change could be incredibly important,” Leventhal says. “One woman was frozen in her chair. Over time, she started to mirror what we were doing. In her eyes was a real sense of joy. Her movements were small and her expression just a flicker but the change spoke volumes. Another women came back from a wedding and said that thanks to the class she’d the confidence and stamina to dance the whole time.”
In 2011, a research project by the English National Ballet and the University of Roehampton in London found that Dance for PD improves stability and shortterm mobility. The same year, a German study showed that Dance for PD eased rigidity, improved mobility and facial expression and had positive effects on social life and overall health and wellbeing.
A pioneering dance program that can help people with Parkinson’s disease has arrived in Australia. Annette Dasey investigates
Participants take part in a Dance for PD class in Brisbane