Dance for Parkinson’s starts in Pittsburgh

This September, Pittsburgh will become the third region in Pennsylvania to launch classes based on the Dance for PD model. A collaboration between the National Parkinson Foundation Western Pennsylvania (NPFWP), Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and Yes You Can Dance!, the program will offer weekly Saturday afternoon classes at the modern studios of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, located in Pittsburgh’s famed Strip District, just 1.5 miles from the heart of downtown Pittsburgh.

With approximately eight movement-disorder specialists located throughout the city, Pittsburgh is home to a comparatively large pool of treatment resources for people with PD.

Plans for a Pittsburgh program began several years ago, and the NPFWP’s Director of Programs and Outreach David von Hofen has been laying the ground work for a program for people in the Foundation’s service area. In 2012, Dance for PD Program Director and founding teacher David Leventhal led a demonstration at the Davis Phinney Foundation’s Victory Summit in Pittsburgh, and this past spring, Mark Morris Dance Group dancers Sam Black and Rita Donahue led a community master class as part of the Dance Group’s performance residency in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre joined the team as a lead partner, engaging its teaching faculty to train and lead classes, and Yes You Can Dance!, which partners with community organizations, dance professionals, health professionals, and educators to design and provide dance opportunities for Pittsburgh residents, is helping to support the program.

“It’s a perfect example of how it takes a village to launch these classes for the long term,” Leventhal said. “But the Pittsburgh team has worked incredibly hard, and I look forward to seeing the classes develop and succeed.

“This past season has marked considerable strides in PBT’s accessibility services for performance patrons. Now, we’re taking that one step further with the “Dance for Parkinson’s” program,” said Alyssa Herzog Melby, PBT’s Director of Education and Community Engagement. “Instead of just observing dance, people with PD will be able to fully experience the art form by participating in a variety of dance styles in classes created with them in mind. With its strong medical community,
Pittsburgh is an ideal location to offer this program, and we are so proud to be selected as the host company to introduce it here.”

Barbara Farrell, executive director for National Parkinson Foundation Western PA, adds, “Exercise is essential in helping to manage Parkinson’s Disease. Dance, in particular this model for dance, provides additional benefits not found in many other types of exercise. These classes are appropriate for all people with Parkinson’s disease regardless of ability or mobility.”

For more information about the new Pittsburgh program, please click here.


L’Allegro Movement Project

Left: MMDG teaching artists Lesley Garrison and Uta Takemura rehearse a scene from Mark Morris’ L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato in preparation for the June 19 performance. Right: Dancers from L’Allegro Movement Project perform at Daniels Spectrum in Toronto with members of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir.

On June 19, members of the Toronto-based Dancing with Parkinson’s (a Dance for PD partner) joined young students from two Toronto elementary schools to perform adapted excerpts from Mark Morris’ L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato as part of Mark Morris Dance Group’s performance residency at the Luminato Festival. With a full orchestra (The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra Chamber Choir and soloists conducted by Jane Glover), costumes and a live audience, L’Allegro Movement Project built upon the success of the Dance for PD in Performance event in Brooklyn last November, creating an inter-generational initiative that allowed Parkinson’s dancers and young students to explore the expressive vocabulary of Morris’ masterpiece. Mark Morris Dance Group dancers and Dance for PD staff facilitated the planning and rehearsal process in collaboration with Dancing with Parkinson’s and Luminato Festival.

“L’Allegro Movement Project has been an epic adventure for all of our participants,” says Toronto Dancing with Parkinson’s founder Sarah Robichaud. “Dancing with the children has certainly made our students feel part of a large, beautiful artistic community.”

“This large-scale inter-generational Education and Outreach project explores the multi-disciplinary richness of Mark Morris’ L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, and creates opportunities for collaboration that connects the participants through shared arts experiences, while reflecting personal and community narrative,” said Jessica Dargo Caplan, Director of Education and Community Outreach for Luminato. “On a personal note, it has been incredibly inspiring to be involved in the development of this beautiful project, and observe the authentic, ongoing exchange between the participants.”

To read an article about the project, please click here.

Dance for PD comes to Australia


David Leventhal and Erica Rose Jeffrey lead a community class during a Dance for PD training at Queensland Ballet in Brisbane, Australia.

In May, a whirlwind, eight-day training tour of Australia delivered Dance for PD workshops to more than 30 dancers and dance teachers in Sydney and Brisbane, Australia, dramatically increasing the capacity of the Australian dance community to work with persons with Parkinson’s in cities around the country. Teachers from Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Hobart, Brisbane and other areas of the country were represented. As is standard with Dance for PD workshops, persons from the community were able to take a demo class with David Leventhal, who was joined by Dance for PD’s Australia coordinator Erica Rose Jeffrey, who until recently taught Dance for PD at Marin Dance Theater in San Rafael, California.

“The trip was a tremendous success,” Leventhal said. “Despite the size of Australia, I felt we were able to make a significant impact because dance teachers from many different population centers are passionate about bringing the program back to their communities.”

The Dance for PD team is particularly excited about a new collaboration with Queensland Ballet, which is hoping to launch classes based on the MMDG/BPG model later this year. “The Queensland Ballet is extremely interested in this work, and their team is dedicated to integrating Dance for Parkinson’s work into their entire engagement plan,” Leventhal said. “We’re thrilled to see support for the program among larger institutions like Queensland Ballet, as well as among independent teaching artists and practitioners. That combination, seen clearly in the network of teachers and organizations currently working in the United Kingdom and United States, represents a dynamic and diverse model that is at the heart of what makes Dance for PD successful.”

More information about the roll-out of Dance for PD in Australia will be posted as soon as it is available. To visit the Dance for Parkinson’s Australia Facebook page, please click here.

Dance for Parkinson’s in Cleveland

A new class starting this month expands the movement opportunities for people with Parkinson’s in Cleveland. The culmination of a collaboration among Dance for PD, DANCECleveland, Cleveland State University, the Mandel Jewish Community Center, and Cleveland dance legends Kathryn Karipides and Taffy Epstein, the new Yes…I Can Dance class will begin with a six-week pilot series that runs April 14-May 19.

Fred and Dianne Discenzo, who trained with Dance for PD in Brooklyn, have been offering a popular ballroom-based class to the Cleveland community for several years. The class at the JCC rounds out local offerings by focusing on modern, ballet and improvisation, and will be led by Joan Meggitt, Desmond Davis and Heather Koniz, established local teaching artists.

For more information, please click here.

Dance for Parkinson’s classes in Ontario, Canada


Jody White, Melania Pawliw and Max Ratevosian with Dance for PD
program manager David Leventhal (second from left) after a training workshop
in Waltham, MA.

Hamilton City Ballet, based in Ontario, will launch Dance for Parkinson’s classes taught by Max Ratevosian, Melania Pawliw and Jody White this month. Flautist Mate Szigeti and Violinist Anita Hiripi will provide unique and collaborative live accompaniment for the classes. Dianne Long, of Cambridge Dance Studio and Perpetual Motion youth Company, will join the team as assistant teacher. “This collaborative approach will result in classes that are attentive and responsive to the students’ participation and enjoyment in their classes,” said White, program manager for the Hamilton classes. The pilot class, offered free of charge, will be held on April 15th at St. Paul’s United Church in neighboring Dundas. The Hamilton Dance for Parkinson’s classes, which will include a ‘Cupcake and Friendship time’ with food provided by Tiny Cakes, will dovetail with Hamilton City Ballet’s performance schedule. “We have a 6-week session planned and the weekend of June 1 marks our spring performance of Coppelia,” White said. Part of our session will also include invitations to both working rehearsals and the final performance.” For more information, please click here.

Dance for PD comes to Berlin

Leanore Ickstadt and long-time Brooklyn program volunteer Annemirl Schild launched an on-going program in Berlin, Germany at Tanz Tangente. Ickstandt and Schild spent months laying the ground work for the class. Ickstadt participated in her Dance for PD teacher training at the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn.

“Two days before we had only 2 registrations but decided to go ahead any way,” said Ickstadt. “By the day we had 8 registrations and 9 came! It was quite crowded and, the only question in the feedback session at the end was: how many more people would we let in!”

Dance for PD® offers demo classes and booth at Brain Health Fair

For the second year in a row, Dance for PD® will be represented at the American Academy of Neurology’s Brain Health Fair, a free daylong family event connecting thousands of patients, families, and caregivers affected by a brain disease, as well as the general public interested in brain health. Participants can attend classes and activities on Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, autism, brain injury, epilepsy, headache, multiple sclerosis, sleep disorders and other types of brain disease. This year’s Fair takes place at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel.

At the event, presented by the American Brain Foundation, attendees will be able to take a class with Misty Owens, one of Dance for PD’s founding teachers, learn more about our work, and order our brand new At Home DVD. To register for the Fair, please click here>.

Dance for PD® launches in The Bronx

The Mark Morris Dance Group/Brooklyn Parkinson Group’s original and internationally acclaimed Dance for PD® program will now be available to residents of The Bronx thanks to a new collaboration among MMDG, Brooklyn Parkinson Group and Bronx House, which will host the classes. The first pilot class will take place Monday, March 18 from 10:30-11:45 a.m.

The class, which is open to persons with Parkinson’s disease, their families, friends, and care partners, will be offered free of charge. A teacher and a musician from the Mark Morris Dance Group will lead the session.

“We’re thrilled to be able to offer this class in The Bronx for the first time,” said founding Dance for PD® teacher David Leventhal, a former MMDG dancer and Dance for PD®’s program manager. “This program has helped transform the experience of people with Parkinson’s living in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens, and we want Bronx residents to have the same access to this high quality arts program.”

“Bronx House is the perfect venue for this class because of its acclaimed arts programming, and its experience bringing the arts to a diverse group of people in the wonderful borough of The Bronx,” Leventhal said.

Future Bronx classes will be scheduled based on the results of the first pilot class in March.

Register here or through the Dance for PD New York class registration line: 718-218-3373.

David and Olie to receive 2013 Alan Bonander Humanitarian Award on behalf of Dance for PD®

The Parkinson’s Unity Walk has selected Olie Westheimer and David Leventhal as this year’s recipients of the Alan Bonander Humanitarian Award in recognition of their work to develop Dance for PD®, 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. Carol Walton, the Unity Walk’s Executive Director, will present the award at this year’s event on Saturday, April 27 in New York’s Central Park.

The Alan Bonander Humanitarian Award winner is nominated and voted on by a committee, and is awarded to an individual in recognition of their exemplary contribution to the Parkinson’s community. Alan Bonander was a person with Parkinson’s who selflessly devoted to his time to patient advocacy through research and direct interaction with physicians. He was a dedicated husband, Californian, support person, consultant, advocate, writer, Parkinson’s medication information resource, Parkinson’s patient, Palidotomy recipient, asthma sufferer and internet pioneer. This is just a hint of who Alan Bonander was until his untimely death in 1996.

To read more about this year’s award, please click here.

The Unity Walk is the world’s largest grassroots event to raise Parkinson’s awareness and funds to find a cure. Since 1994, families, friends, caregivers and representatives from the Walk’s sponsors and seven major U.S. Parkinson’s foundations have gathered once a year in unity, with 100% of donations going directly to Parkinson’s disease research. While more than 10,000 people are expected to turn out for the event, many others raise funds from home and support the Walk without ever coming to Central Park. Click on the logo to the left for more information, or call 866-PUW-WALK (866-789-9255)

English research study shows benefits of dance for persons with PD

Newly-published research on dance and Parkinson’s, conducted by Sara Houston and Ashley McGill, suggests that dance temporarily relieves some symptoms of Parkinson’s and aids short term mobility, as well as contributing to social inclusion and artistic expression.
The English National Ballet and Roehampton University co-commissioned the study, which was published in Arts & Health: An International Journal for Research, Policy and Practice.

Roehampton’s Houston and McGill were commissioned to examine the benefits of dance in its artistic form. The researchers reviewed the social and psychological benefits to participants as well as physical changes in posture, stability and mobility over the 12 week period.

The study examined the experience of dancing with Parkinson’s from both qualitative and quantitative angles. Both angles suggest that dancing is an important tool to increase well-being, to aid daily life and to give people a sociable, creative outlet that is not disease-focused.

“One of the most noticeable aspects of the project was how it supported participants’ confidence, as well as improving their bodily awareness,” Houston noted. “The project’s inclusivity and encouragement coupled with social interaction were key to achieving this.”

To read a summary of the study, click here.

To read the entire article, click here.

Photo credit: Belinda Lawley/English National Ballet