Dance for Parkinson’s: “We believe in the power of dance”

Health & Fitness

Author: Johanna Stiefler JohnsonPublished: 15 April 2021

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In collaboration with English National Ballet, National Dance Company Wales is helping people with Parkinson’s disease to stay connected, engaged and active during the pandemic through a virtual dance class

“I come in feeling like a little old lady, but I leave here feeling quite tall.”

So says Angela Harrison, a participant of the ‘Dance for Parkinson’s’ programme. Established by English National Ballet in 2010, ‘Dance for Parkinson’s’ is designed to help people with the condition, as well as their carers, family and friends, to “experience the joy of dancing to live music, socialising and meeting new people”.

Angela says: “It makes me feel I can cope better; I can walk better … It’s the best medicine.”

“Dancing has been shown to support people with Parkinson’s to develop confidence and strength, whilst temporarily relieving some participants of the symptoms they experience in everyday life,” says Guy O’Donnell, learning and participation producer at National Dance Company Wales (NDCWales), an affiliated hub of the programme since 2015. “Classes are expressive, creative and promote feelings of freedom from the physical and social constraints of having Parkinson’s.”

Despite the barriers brought on by Covid-19, NDCWales has maintained the programme’s momentum by moving classes online.

Image credit: Rachel Cherry.

A virtual learning experience

“Since the start of lockdown, NDCWales has transported the classes to a new online Zoom version, to continue to support those most vulnerable and shielding from Covid-19,” says Guy. This, he says, has enabled attendees to “take part from the comfort of their own home and stay connected to people sociably over the past year”.

To help “digitally excluded people”, Guy continues, NDCWales has partnered with tech support programme Digital Communities Wales, to provide “free training and support for those who wanted to take part in the class but had never used Zoom before”.

This collaboration has helped to ensure the programme’s continued benefits for Parkinson’s community.

“The lockdown has been very hard,” says one participant, who prefers not to be named, “as I was no longer able to see people and my family. I felt isolated and my speech was suffering. I found the Zoom sessions helped me reconnect and it was lovely to see the teachers and all the participants of our group. The sessions were very uplifting for me and I always looked forward to them.”

English National Ballet has suggested that ‘Dance for Parkinson’s’ participants can begin to “enhance fluidity of movement” through dance while also developing postural stability and flexibility, and improving balance. The use of rhythm and voice can also benefit “cueing movement and expression”.

“As well as the health benefits,” says Guy, “the wellbeing outcomes are also an important part of class. The opportunity to be creative in a supportive environment is vital to the project’s success. I think it’s fair to say ‘Dance for Parkinson’s’ improves the quality of life of our members and supports them to meet with others who have similar lived experiences.”

“Nothing to lose”

Guy assures those who are unsure about joining the class that they have “nothing to lose” – especially because each attendee’s first class is offered free of charge. After that, classes cost £3.50. “Classes are 90 minutes long, and all you’ll need is a chair,” he says.

“‘Dance for Parkinson’s’ classes are fun and informal. Each class offers an opportunity for members to share their thoughts and feelings with fellow members experiencing the same things as them. It is also a nice opportunity to have a social chat about their day.”

Additionally, when the course resumes in-person, Guy says: “Participants can look forward to working in our dance spaces, spending time with each other and having a nice chat over tea and biscuits at the end of class.”

He continues: “Because we believe in the power of dance, we share our passion for the art form. As a repertory company, we create work by a range of choreographers to reflect different perspectives and find new ways of dancing. We create new possibilities of what dance can be.”

Lead image credit: Billie Charity.

Read more:

“Parkinson’s is left outside – they come here to dance”

Tango treatment: dance to improve your Parkinson’s

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