Dance Fever: Movement Therapy for Parkinson’s
Kick up your heels and get ready: A unique adventure awaits, and your shaking, trembling, and balance issues won’t stop you! Dance classes have emerged as a means to improve motor skills and cognitive abilities for those with Parkinson’s disease (PD), while also boosting their personal artistic expression.
According to the Dance for PD program, dance improves gait and balance issues, plus can help patients in their thinking abilities and decrease feelings of isolation through social interaction.
Founded in 2001 in Brooklyn, New York, the program offers specialized dance classes to people with PD and their families, friends, and caregivers. The program is offered in New York and through their network of affiliates, which has grown to reach more than 300 communities in 25 countries around the world. The Dance for PD program is supported by the Parkinson’s Foundation.
In class, people with PD are taught to combine movements from different dance styles such as modern, ballet, tap, traditional, and social dancing. The dances are kept short to engage participants’ minds and bodies, helping to create a relaxed and fun social environment for artistic expression.
Classes are often led by professional dancers who are movement experts, so they already understand many skills useful to persons with PD such as balance, sequencing, rhythm, and artistic expression awareness.
However, not all classes are taught by professional dancers. Often, class leads are family members, caregivers, or anyone else trained as a dance class facilitator. In the age of COVID-19, there’s an online training program for those interested in facilitating a community class.
‘Does dance really help with PD movement and memory issues?’
The answer is a resounding yes! Research supports that lacing up those shoes for dance/movement therapy can help individuals with PD and other movement disorders.
In a 2019 study comparing the effects of dance for early-stage PD patients, researchers found that memory skills, anxiety and depression, and quality of life were significantly improved for participants in the dance group.
Neurology Now, in their 2010 article “Finding New Life through Movement,” noted in a series on innovative therapies for neurological disease that dance/movement therapy is embraced by healthcare professionals as a supplement to traditional medical treatment.
Although PD dance classes are trendy these days, their benefits for PD aren’t newly realized. Back in 1989, dancer and psychologist Beth Kaplan Westbrook, PhD, and Dr. Helen McKibben wrote in the American Journal of Dance Therapy about dance/movement therapy participants with PD and other neurological diseases: “When they moved, they began to express themselves nonverbally. It’s fascinating that a non-verbal approach can make such a difference.”
Parkinson’s News Today columnist Lori DePorter, who participated in a Dance for PD class, echoed this experience: “It was obvious that our Parkinson’s didn’t matter. It made each one of us unique and that was reflected in our movements and the art we created.”
Although my sister, Bev, who has stage 3 PD, might never be a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars,” she and others may be giving a different and positive spin to the term “whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.”
Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.