Preventing falls

Photos 140 Amber

David writes:
I receive a number of emails from teachers and coordinators in the network who are concerned about the potential for falls in class. While falls are a serious matter, there are a number of ways teachers and coordinators can help mitigate fall risk during class with the understanding that some people living with Parkinson’s fall a lot, regardless of the environment or activity.

Modeling is a great way to reduce the potential for falls. No, this doesn’t involve fashion or runways. It means that at any time during the class, there is always one person demonstrating dance activities from a chair. We always do this in our flagship classes as a matter of course because we have several individuals who do remain seated during the ‘standing’ portion of class and they need a guide. But as Philadelphia-based Dance for Parkinson’s teacher Keila Cordova reminds us, it’s a valuable tool even if no one is doing the class seated at that moment. That’s because it reminds those who may start feeling unsteady that it’s okay to sit and that they are able to continue fully with the class when they return to the chairs. By always modeling seated translations of material, you’re providing a valuable guide and encouragement for people to work at their own level.

It’s also beneficial to remind people verbally throughout the class that they should feel free to translate material in any way that feels right, and that anything that’s done standing or traveling can be done beautifully in a chair. It’s valuable for people to hear that information week to week (and then to see one of the teachers actually manifesting that).

In terms of safety, one of the most helpful factors in our class is volunteers. We have 3-4 in each class, and they play a vital support role. I’m convinced that one reason we have so few incidents is that we have so many hands on deck, and people really watch out for each other. (Please be sure to check out our Volunteer Handbook in the Dance for PD Member Toolkit).

One more thing: teachers need to be able to break out of their ‘teaching as performance’ mode, which happens when you get excited, and step into the role of a support, individual guide, and assistant at various times in the class, and without much warning. And watch out for fancy content. By working on simpler (but still stimulating) material, and repeating it week to week to develop confidence and mastery, you’ll make beginning/intermediate students of all levels feel welcome, safe and in control.