Dance for PD – where I was last weekend

This is where I was last weekend – attending the Dance for PD (Parkinson’s Disease) workshop in Waltham, Massachusetts. I had the wonderful opportunity to take this workshop with two of the founding teachers, David Leventhal and Misty Owens. Immersed in the workshop, I felt as much a student of dance as a student of learning how to teach dance to a specific population of people, those folks with Parkinson’s Disease.

Some 40 of us gathered Saturday and Sunday at the Jewish Family & Children’s Service center, an inviting two story complex that hosts a vibrant Family Support group coordinated by Nancy Mazonson for individuals with Parksinson’s, their families and caretakers. Of the many services provided, one is an ongoing series of dance classes that were begun in 2006.

The details of the workshop are on my yogajournal posterous blog. For now I want to focus on the benefits of dance for folks with Parkinson’s, and I would add that those same benefits accrue to just about anyone with limited mobility or dementia in its early stages.

Research into the impact of dance on people with Parkinson’s is ongoing, most recently noted in this November 11, 2011 article on Dr Sara Houston’s work examining “the benefits to quality of life for people with Parkinson’s taking part in dance classes run by English National Ballet.” The Dance for PD listserv provided a link to Study explores benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s, a summary of Dr Houston’s research.

My father had Alzheimer’s for many years. He also had a never-ending love of music and dance, with a heavy dose of Broadway musicals, music of the 40s and 50s, and folks like the Gershwins, Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, as well as Big Band tunes and songs from both world wars. He attended ballet and Broadway shows for the better part of his life, and danced up a storm (often with me) at family gatherings. Turns out, my Dad also had Parkinson’s Disease, something we did not find out until he died and it showed up on his death certificate. To be sure, I had an inkling, for he had the tremors in his hands, the arms that eventually stopped swinging when he walked, and a walk that turned to a shuffle (also common with Alzheimer’s).  But no matter his physical state, he LOVED the music, he loved singing along to songs, he loved dancing. When the words left him, he sang along with humming or the requisite “heh” in a well-known WWII ditty or Columbia College (his alma mater) song.

Among the many resources provided by Dance for PD is this list of ten points (noted below) extolling the benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s. Reading them over, and having seen the impact of music and dance on my Dad, it’s difficult to say that only folks with Parkinson’s benefit from dancing! All of the Dance for PD classes have musical accompaniment, and the Brooklyn based home of Dance for PD has the benefit of live piano playing by William Wade.

  1. Dance develops flexibility and instills confidence.
  2. Dance is first and foremost a stimulating mental activity that connects mind to body.
  3. Dance breaks isolation.
  4. Dance invokes imagery in the service of graceful movement.
  5. Dance focuses attention on eyes, ears and touch as tools to assist in movement and balance.
  6. Dance increases awareness of where all parts of the body are in space.
  7. Dance tells stories.
  8. Dance sparks creativity.
  9. The basis of dance is rhythm.
  10. The essence of dance is joy.

A former student (who has written a book for other students that, like her, have a learning difference) tweeted a link to Cellist Memory Wiped Out From Virus, Doctors Stunned By Musical Memory. I read the article just after returning from the Dance for PD workshop. Towards the end of the article there are several references to “the link between memory and music”, specifically noting the impact of music on people with Alzheimer’s.

Music! Dance! What a combo this can be for anyone, and especially those whose bodies are no longer as resilient as they once were. For more about Dance for PD, read or listen to this 2008 NPR story, Parkinson’s Patients Find Grace In Dance.

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