‘Performing arts help shake off the burden of Parkinson’s’

Health & Fitness

Author: Simge Eva DoganPublished: 26 September 2019

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Two people dancing

We hear from UK artist Amy Mallett about a new performing arts initiative celebrating and showcasing the creative abilities of people with Parkinson’s.

From empowering participants with the condition to express themselves to helping them manage the physical and mental symptoms of Parkinson’s – Amy tells us how the programme offers a “welcomed escape from everyday life”

Hi Amy, thanks for chatting to the team here at Parkinson’s Life. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

It’s a pleasure. I’m a musician, composer and a programme development manager at Snape Maltings, an arts organisation in Suffolk, UK. My work involves looking at how music can improve our health and wellbeing – including people living with Parkinson’s.

I’ve also worked for the English National Ballet as an associate musician on their Dance for Parkinson’s programme, and I founded The East Suffolk Skylarks – a singing group for people with Parkinson’s.

Members of coLab arts initiative.

Amy Mallett (second to the left) and members of East Suffolk Skylarks during one of their exercises.

You also founded the creative Parkinson’s initiative CARVE coLAB. Can you tell us what it is?

CARVE coLAB represents the collaborative voices of independent music and dance artists Danielle Teale, Nicola Wydenbach, Sarah Lewis and myself. The four of our paths kept on crossing, and we had an ambitious idea to create an opera-ballet with and for people living with Parkinson’s.

As practitioners all working within Parkinson’s community, we had long seen the positive impact of singing and dancing on the symptoms of Parkinson’s. We felt there was more to be explored in terms of the benefits of empowering our members to find their own creative potential. We were also keen to challenge expectations around working with performers with health challenges.

With a shared vision for developing inspiring artistic opportunities for people with Parkinson’s and their families, we formed CARVE coLAB.

We’re currently working on a unique performance project called HerStory: The Catchpole Chronicles. It’s an operatic work combining dance, music, film and animation, celebrating the exploits of local Suffolk heroine Margaret Catchpole. We launched the project earlier this year with support from Arts Council England and Snape Maltings.

How can the performing arts help people with Parkinson’s?

There are many research studies that prove that both dancing and singing can help improve a range of physical and mental symptoms of people living with Parkinson’s. Dance has been shown to positively impact balance, mobility and general fitness – with the added benefit of providing an outlet for expression and creativity.

Not as many people are aware that one symptom of Parkinson’s is a reduction in the volume and power of the voice. Vocal exercises and singing help participants regain and maintain control of their voices and can help keep facial muscles mobile.

Perhaps more importantly, our groups tell us that performing arts offer a welcomed escape from everyday life – and a chance to ‘leave Parkinson’s at the door’.

Our regular classes are a fantastic way to shake off the burden of Parkinson’s and keep physical and mental symptoms at bay, but performance takes this to the next level. It gives a sense of ownership, purpose and of achievement. It’s something that can be shared as a tangible demonstration of artistry with friends, family and the world.

A member of the arts initiative coLab dancing.

Members of the cast of HerStory: The Catchpole Chronicles performing at Snape Maltings.

What has been the response from participants with Parkinson’s so far?

We have professional musicians and dancers working alongside cast members which makes this a truly inclusive practice. After one workshop performance, a cast member remarked that it had made them feel that their talents were equal to the professionals.

Another group member beautifully articulated her experience, saying: “It gave me personally a feeling of wonder, my anxieties diminished, and I felt full of joy that my performance was enjoyed and appreciated by an audience.”

I have personally always believed that everyone is an artist. This is a natural and enjoyable part of our childhoods, but for some it gets lost as we travel through life, for one reason or another.

Everyone involved in the project has been on their own individual journey, faced their own challenges and derived success from a wide range of aspects.

The next phase of the HerStory: The Catchpole Chronicles project will see cast members from Suffolk and London unite for a performance at the Royal Opera House, UK in summer 2020, as part of the venue’s Open Up programme. To find out more please visit the Snape Maltings website.

For more information on Parkinson’s and dance movement therapy please visit Parkinson’s Europe website.

Read more:

Scottish Ballet: dance therapy for Parkinson’s

Tango treatment: dance to improve your Parkinson’s

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