Sunday Mail - Body and Soul - - FRONT PAGE -

move­ment dis­or­der and other neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive con­di­tions are be­ing en­cour­aged to dance with aban­don via the in­tro­duc­tion of the Dance for PD pro­gram (dance­for­parkin­son­saus­

“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.


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

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