Dance Returns The Joy Of Movement To People With Parkinson's

Posted on September 27, 2016

One recent afternoon, "Broadway Baby" blasted from the sound system as nearly two dozen people tried to imitate the movements of instructor Linda Berghoff. The students are people with Parkinson's and their spouses or caregivers. For the moment, everyone was seated, but with bodies pulled upright, arms stretched and fists pumping in time to the music.

It was a challenging routine, keeping a one-two beat with one arm, and a three-part rhythm with the other. Berghoff shouted encouragement over the music. She's lean and fit and looks younger than her 65 years. Though never a professional dancer, she's danced all her life - even after her own diagnosis of Parkinson's disease 10 years ago.

"When I was diagnosed, the thought that I would no longer dance again terrified me," she tells Shots. "I'd be stripped of the thing I love the most."

There are some small, short-term studies that suggest dance might improve some of those symptoms, especially ease of walking. But Leventhal says the class was never intended as just physical therapy.

"There's also an artistic quality," he says, "where we're hoping people are able to say something with those gestures." This is particularly relevant to people with Parkinson's, who start to lose their expressive ability and "feel themselves pull away from who they thought they were."

The program at the Mark Morris Dance Center began as a partnership with the Brooklyn Parkinson Group. But for the past eight years, Mark Morris instructors have been training other dance companies - like L.A.'s Invertigo Dance Theatre - to conduct classes of their own. There are now programs in 40 states and 13 other countries.

"It's such a natural, intuitive idea that dance should be a good thing for Parkinson's, that people have just gone ahead and done it" without scientific verification that it actually helps, says Dr. Pietro Mazzoni. He teaches neurology at Columbia University Medical Center and heads the Motor Performance Laboratory there.

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Category(s):Dance Therapy

Source material from National Public Radio


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