By Parkinson Canada
Take a cue from the Bee Gees’ hit song and consider taking a dance class especially designed for people living with Parkinson’s disease (PD). No need to mimic John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, these dance classes are modified to be safe and effective for their participants with PD, as well as their spouses or care partners, while offering the joy of dance and all the benefits of moving to music.
AB (Alice Betty) Rustin has been taking a Sharing Dance for People with Parkinson’s class at Canada’s National Ballet School for three years now and a Dancing with Parkinson’s class in the city as well. “It’s always great to spend time with others with Parkinson’s,” says Alice Betty. “And I feel better after a class. The movements are not as strenuous as in an exercise class. They are much more fluid. And, you’ve got the wonderful music.”
Research indicates that dance is an effective, complementary therapy, for those living with Parkinson’s disease, according to Rachel Bar, Manager, Health and Research Initiatives, at Canada’s National Ballet School, in Toronto. “More than 40 research studies have established its benefits,” she says.
Indeed, several Parkinson’s researchers have studied the benefits of dancing for people with Parkinson’s, from symptom relief to improved mood and quality of life. One of these researchers, Joseph DeSouza, conducts studies with participants at the Sharing Dance for People with Parkinson’s class and Dancing with Parkinson’s classes.
Research on dancing and Parkinson’s shows that improvements in balance and gait last long after dance classes end. DeSouza also wants people to know that dancing has other positive benefits. “All the other dance classes that take place all over the world show that people feel better they’re happier,” DeSouza says. “It’s almost like a supplemental therapy that helps them cope with whatever they’re dealing with.”
Across the country, dance classes for people with Parkinson’s are gaining in popularity and several Parkinson Canada local offices and support groups are coordinating classes. In Saskatchewan, the Parkinson Canada Regina support group now offers a Creative Dance Movement for Parkinson’s class with dance instructor Fran Gilboy, who completed initial specialty training with Sarah Robichaud of Dancing with Parkinson’s in Toronto last year. The support group first approached Gilboy to offer a 30-minute dance class and then had her return for another session.
“After the first class, I was inspired by this group. After the second class, I was on my phone in the parking lot, trying to find a way to get funding to offer classes in an ongoing way,” she says. The Regina support group applied for a grant from the Saskatchewan Arts Board and was awarded a $9,400 grant to offer a program about twice a month from September through to April 2018.
“My heart strings were really pulled by this group,” says Gilboy, who has long taught creative dance to both children and adults. “There is a whole different level of pleasure in teaching this Parkinson’s group. There is the simple essence of joy in dance and other things just fall away. It’s now my favourite class,” she says.
Another outcome of the Saskatchewan grant is the production of a short documentary video to use to fundraise for further grants and support and future marketing of the program. The video was shown at a Parkinson Canada gathering of support group facilitators in Saskatchewan and accompanied a lecture and demonstration held at a Parkinson Canada education conference.
No experience is necessary and participants are encouraged to do what is possible for them on any given day. The class is open to people with Parkinson’s, care partners, family members and friends. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or contact John Dawes at 306-584-3267 (e-mail: email@example.com) for more information.
In the Greater Toronto Area, Dancing with Parkinson’s classes are offered in more than a dozen locations (website: dancingwithparkinsons.com). In cities across the country, Canada’s National Ballet School offers Sharing Dance for People with Parkinson’s classes on Tuesdays and Fridays. You can find information about their program and other organizations offering dancing classes for people with Parkinson’s at dancepdnetwork.ca.