Why Dance for Parkinson’s Disease
“I am awed by the power of dance to transform and alleviate pain. Despite the steady advance of Parkinson’s, we show up. We move. We laugh. We share our best selves.”—Patricia Needle, Dance for PD participant, Berkeley, CA (Hear more of Patricia’s perspective here.
“If we can share our love of dance, and we know the benefits of dance and music physically, emotionally and socially – the world becomes much more tolerable and compassionate for all those affected by PD.”—Ingrid Hurlen, Dance for PD trainee and teacher, Seattle, WA
- Sustaining current flagship classes in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and expanding Dance for PD class offerings throughout the New York City area with the goal of having classes in all five boroughs by 2014.
- Fostering collaborative partnerships among Parkinson’s disease, arts, and medical organizations in other cities around the world to support establishment and sustenance of classes based on the Brooklyn model.
- Training, nurturing and certifying qualified teachers in the Dance for PD approach and best practices, and sharing information with administrators and PD group coordinators so that they can carry out administrative best practices in support of local Dance for PD programs.
- Offering community classes and conference demonstrations, taught by founding teachers and Mark Morris Dance Group teaching artists, to share the joys and benefits of dancing with communities that haven’t yet been exposed to the program.
- Developing and maintaining online resources and educational products that serve to support, enhance, and expand the program’s mission as well as create a virtual network in which information and ideas can flow freely and enhance the working knowledge of practitioners and participants.
The Dance for PD® approach
The Dance for PD® program is built on one fundamental premise: professionally-trained dancers are movement experts whose knowledge is useful to persons with PD. Dancers know all about stretching and strengthening muscles, and about balance and rhythm. Dancers know about the power of dance to concentrate mind, body and emotion on movement because they use their thoughts, imagination, eyes, ears and touch to control their bodies every day.
Please see an excerpt from our film Why Dance for Parkinson’s Disease. This film, made possible by a lead grant from the National Parkinson Foundation, recently won first place in the Society for the Arts in Healthcare’s 2010 Film Festival.
Dance for PD® teaching artists integrate movement from modern and theater dance, ballet, folk dance, tap, improvisation, and choreographic repertory. The Dance for PD® class is an aesthetic experience that uses the elements of narrative, imagery, live music and community to develop artistry and grace while addressing such PD-specific concerns as balance, flexibility, coordination, isolation and depression.
The classes engage the participants’ minds and bodies, and create an enjoyable, social environment that emphasizes dancing rather than therapy. Active demonstration by professional dancers inspires participants to recapture grace, while guided improvisation fosters creativity, and experimentation with movement.
“The fundamentals of dancing and dance training—things like balance, movement sequencing, rhythm, spatial and aesthetic awareness, and dynamic coordination—seem to address many of the things people with Parkinson’s want to work on to maintain a sense of confidence and grace in their movements. Although participants from all over the world tell us they find elements of the class therapeutic, the primary goal of our program is for people to enjoy dance for dancing’s sake in a group setting—and to explore the range of physical, artistic and creative possibilities that are still very much open to them.”—David Leventhal, Dance for PD founding teacher, Brooklyn, NY
Dance for PD® started as an idea, was born as an experiment, and has emerged as an innovative global program that has launched in more than 100 communities in 8 countries, impacting thousands of people with Parkinson’s, their families, and carepartners.
In 2001, Olie Westheimer, the Founder and Executive Director of the Brooklyn Parkinson Group (BPG), approached the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG), an internationally-acclaimed modern dance company that had just opened a new dance center in Brooklyn. Olie proposed the idea of a rigorous, creative dance class for members of her group. She also knew from her own dance background that professional dancers train their minds and bodies to execute difficult movement with confidence, power and grace. In doing so, they develop cognitive strategies that she thought could be naturally beneficial and enjoyable for people with Parkinson’s.
That year, two dancers from the Mark Morris Dance Group—John Heginbotham and David Leventhal—along with a professional musician, started leading monthly classes for about six people. A third dancer, Misty Owens joined shortly the teaching team shortly after, and composer and pianist William Wade became the program’s lead musician in 2003. From the beginning, the Brooklyn classes were–as they still are today–offered free of charge in a state-of-art building devoted to dance.
In 2004, MMDG begin leading Dance for PD® classes in cities where the company toured, and developed a training program for dance teachers soon after. Dance for PD®’s founding teachers have offered more than 100 free demo classes and more than 30 teacher training workshops around the world. The original Brooklyn program serves as a model and inspiration for a growing network of Parkinson’s dance classes in 30 U.S. states, and in Mexico, Canada, England, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Holland, Israel and India. Meanwhile, enrollment in the Brooklyn and Manhattan flagship classes now averages 45-50 participants a week.
Throughout its expansion, the Dance for PD® teaching approach has remained true to Olie’s vision and fundamental ideas: that professionally-trained dancers are movement experts whose knowledge about balance, sequencing, rhythm and aesthetic awareness is useful to persons with PD; that all classes welcome and include people of all abilities, as well as families, friends and caregivers; and that the class is about the art, technique, and fun of dancing, not about Parkinson’s and not called therapy. Simply stated, the class allows participants to explore the range of physical and creative possibilities that are still very much open to them.
The program has also been an important catalyst in creating active, engaged Parkinson’s communities where there were none. In the act of dancing together, people learn together, talk together, and inspire each other to explore their creative and physical potential through group singing, yoga, and fitness classes that complement their dance training.
As the program continues to grow, its teachers and leaders try to chart a course that is ever respectful and aware of local community needs, interests, and diversity. But whether the classes take place in Brooklyn, Edinburgh, or Pune, India, the fundamentals are the same: dance and music of the highest quality led by teachers and musicians who are sensitive, knowledgeable and passionate. And with its inclusive philosophy that welcomes all, regardless of ability or level of mobility, the program inspires people with Parkinson’s—and those close to them—to experience the grace, fluidity, and joy that dancing brings.
Where we’ve been
In addition to offering two simultaneous weekly classes for more than 50 participants at the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn, NY, MMDG/BPG have offered Dance for PD® master classes to communities in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Louisville, Ann Arbor, Seattle, Urbana-Champaign, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Orlando, Denver, Erie, Philadelphia, Toronto, Edinburgh, London, Auckland, and Tel Aviv, among others. Such medical centers as Evergreen Hospital (Seattle), Jewish Hospital/Frazier Rehabilitation Institute (Louisville), Carle Hospital (Champaign-Urbana) and Beth Israel Deaconess (Boston) have hosted Dance for PD demonstration classes in their facilities. Such medical centers as Evergreen, Shands (University of Florida), Florida Hospital/Orlando, and Emerson Hospital (MA) regularly offer Dance for PD classes as part of their outreach programming.
MMDG/BPG’s teacher training workshops have led to the replication of Dance for PD® classes in more than 100 communities throughout the United States, Canada, Germany, Italy, India, Israel and the United Kingdom.
The Dance for PD® method has been presented at the International Congress for Parkinson’s Disease and Related Disorders in Berlin (2005), the World Parkinson Congress in Washington, D.C. (2006), Neuroscience 2008 in Washington D.C., and at the 2010 World Parkinson Congress in Glasgow. The program was featured as a model program at the Society for the Arts in Healthcare’s annual conference (2010).
The program’s focused initiatives in replicating classes, training teachers, and providing comprehensive support resources for teachers, administrators, medical professionals and participating communities around the world have been made possible by our generous and committed institutional and individual supporters.
To download a two-sided full-color flier about the program, please click here.
For additional press coverage about the program, click here.
Watch Olie Westheimer talk about the development of Dance for PD®.