A Brooklyn-based group is helping people with Parkinson’s disease use singing and dancing to keep active.
Dance for PD is a non-profit collaboration between Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group, which for the past 14 years has offered dance-based workshops to help people living with the condition.
Kay Dunphy has suffered from Parkinson’s disease for the past five years, and she attends the Dance for PD class each week at the Hannaford Centre in the Sydney suburb of Rozelle.
She said dancing has provided her with a greater sense of self-awareness and understanding of her own body and what it can do.
“With Parkinson’s the body wants to shrink up, but these classes get us to open our bodies out and reach out with our arms and legs,” she told SBS.
“I’m much more flexible, and it’s great socially as well. When I initially discovered I had Parkinson’s I felt self-conscious, but coming along with other people with the same symptoms makes it a lot easier.”
Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative brain disorder and is estimated to affect around 80,000 Australians.
In most cases it develops gradually, initially causing tremors and developing over time to in some cases severely affect people’s body control. It can also cause muscle pain, memory issues and soft or slurred speech.
Prior to being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Tom Leung took ballroom dancing classes for around five years.
“By the end of the class they’re moving a little more fluidly and perhaps even smiling – that’s the most gratifying part.”
He attends the same weekly class as Ms Dunphy, and said dancing again has helped him manage the symptoms of his conditions.
“This is the main exercise I do,” he said. “It relaxes my body and helps mobility…walking down the street you don’t fall over so easily.
“You have more confidence in doing a lot of things.”
‘Dance for PD’ is a non-profit collaboration between Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group. For the past 14 years the organisation has offered dance-based workshops designed for people living with Parkinson’s disease.
Beginning in Brooklyn, Dance for PD classes are now run in major locations internationally.
Sam Black has been a dancer with Mark Morris Dance Group since 2005 and has run Dance for PD classes across the USA for around three years.
He says regularly dancing with people that have Parkinson’s has provided him with a new perspective on dance.
“[The aim is] to try and implant some ideas and some concepts that you can apply to everyday life. So using some of the images that we use in a dance class can help you reach a jar of peanut butter off the shelf or bathe yourself,” he said. “Something that can relate to real world experience.
“We start in circle of chairs, sitting and doing general breath and torso warm-ups to get blood moving. And then we eventually make our way to standing, hold on to the chair and do some basic ballet exercises and we finish class by dancing across the floor.”
Rita Donahue teaches Dance for PD classes with Sam and has been with the Mark Morris Group since 2003.
She said the running the classes is a rewarding alternative to her professional dancing career, and allows her to use her dance knowledge in a socially beneficial way.
“The nature of the disease is that it is degenerative, so people’s conditions do not always improve,” she said. “But often we will see someone who was shuffling into class and then by the end of the class they’re moving a little more fluidly and perhaps even smiling – that’s the most gratifying part.”
The dance group behind Dance for PD, Mark Morris Group, is currently in Australia for a string of performances. While here they are running workshops at the Sydney Opera House for people with Parkinson’s disease.