After rhythmically swaying and sashaying to some popular Broadway tunes and closing with a gentle bow, Ellen* who has Parkinson’s Disease was primed for an encore.
“I feel energized, relaxed and ready to keep moving,” said Ellen following an hour-long special program held at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell called Dance for PD®—a specialized dance class that allows people with Parkinson’s to experience the joys and benefits of dance while creatively addressing concerns related to balance, cognition, motor skill, depression and physical confidence often caused by the disease.
Sponsored by the Mark Morris Dance Group of Brooklyn and hosted by the Osler Society at the Zucker School of Medicine on Jan. 25, Dance for PD welcomed the participation of more than ten individuals living with Parkinson’s and their caregivers. Also joining in the experience were medical students, School of Medicine faculty, and undergraduate students from Hofstra University’s Department of Drama and Dance at Hofstra University—all guided by Dance for PD instructor, Heather Waldon, adjunct instructor of dance at Hofstra.
“It is not a traditional dance class but a group artistic experience,” explained Ms. Waldon. “As a teacher, I’ve learned how to dive into my past [as a performer] to come up with material that will best serve this group of people—it has required me to look at what works, what doesn’t work, and how can I make it better.”
Founded in 2001 by the Mark Morris Dance Group, Dance for PD offers specialized dance classes to people with Parkinson’s in eight locations around New York City and more than 100 communities in 20 countries around the world. The program is led by an advisory board of world-renowned neuroscientists, neurologists, health care professionals and researchers who advise as to the structure and teacher training.
During the class, the instructor incorporates elements of classic and social dancing, together with imagery, poetry and live music, to inspire Parkinson’s participants to move in creative ways. As a result, studies and feedback have shown an improvement in walking and fine-motor skills as well as a mood boost that comes from social interaction and gaining more physical control.
“Those of us who live and work in the dance community understand that music and movement is a benefit for dealing with physical challenges,” said Rachel List, director and associate professor of dance and drama at Hofstra. “We’re happy to partner with the medical school in this way and work with programs like Dance for PD to merge medicine and the arts to enhance both body and mind.”
Parkinson’s Disease affects about one million people in the U.S. and nearly 10 million worldwide. The disease develops slowly over the years; the cause is unknown. People with Parkinson’s may experience tremor, slow movement, rigid limbs and problems with balance making them more prone to falls. Although the disease itself is not fatal, complications are serious. While a Parkinson’s diagnosis can be daunting and challenging, there are medications, complementary therapies, and support available to improve quality of life.
“In the beginning, it was about dealing with the losses, it was very hard,” said a gentleman with Parkinson’s who participated in the program. “But once I got into activities like dance—and I met others going through the same—it got better.”
Special thanks to instructor Heather Waldon, pianist/organist Marci Castro, the Mark Morris Dance Group, Zucker School of Medicine Students and undergraduate students from Hofstra University for your support and participation.
(*Name changed for anonymity.)