Dance class eases symptoms for people with Parkinson’s
When a friend with Parkinson’s disease asked for help in a dance exercise class Nancy Bain was teaching, the seed was planted for Nancy to start a Dancing with Parkinson’s class. “I realized I didn’t know enough about the disease to help her,” Nancy recalls, but Nancy’s mom told her about a Dance for Parkinson’s Disease program she had seen on public television. The program offers dance classes across the nation to people with Parkinson’s.
Nancy was skeptical at first, but while visiting Brooklyn, New York, she also decided to visit the Dance for Parkinson’s program. There she met David Leventhal, the director and teacher of Dance for PD. “I was unbelievably impressed with David and the amount of care and research that has gone into this program,” Nancy says. Then, in 2013, she started a Dancing with Parkinson’s class in Georgetown.
The class features exercise and artistic creativity, combining dances and movements that help ease Parkinson’s symptoms. Symptoms vary from person to person and can include muscle tightening and tremors as well as problems with walking, digestion, vision, balance, speech, and joint mobility. “The symptoms affect every part of your body and cognitive abilities,” Nancy says. “Parkinson’s is an incredibly complex disease. It’s not a one size fits all.”
Nancy accepts people at any stage of the disease and says the class can help slow the progress of the disease for some people. “Studies have shown that gait and posture have improved” because of such classes, she explains. “Participants will be able to make bigger gestures, and their tremors for particular movements will temporarily disappear. These things don’t go away, but it can push back that decline.”
The class also targets depression and anxiety. “The biggest thing the class does is improve participants’ outlook on life. It validates them as normal people, and not as sick people,” she explains. “When they come here, they’re not coming to therapy or a doctor’s office. They’re having fun and socializing with other people.”
Nancy emphasizes the mind and body connection that happens in dance. “A lot of recent research has shown that a combination of moving with a beat to music not only activates the brain, but also allows the body to move in a way it enjoys,” she says.
Each class begins with exercises. Then Nancy teaches a dance, such as the Charleston and the Mexican Hat dance. Students get to show off their dance moves at two yearly performances, one in April for Parkinson’s Awareness Month, and a holiday performance in December.
Up to 15 people attend the class weekly. “It has helped in terms of attitude, balance, flexibility and energy. Nancy’s the best of the best,” says Eugenia Koog, who has been a faithful Dancing with Parkinson’s participant for three years.
Nancy’s most memorable moment was when she taught her students a rock-and-roll step. “They got up, and it was like their brains turned on and went, ‘I remember this.’ They were doing things they had done in high school, like the jitterbug from the fifties. I walked out of that class and burst into tears because I couldn’t believe they were able to do it,” Nancy remembers.
The Dancing with Parkinson’s class is free and takes place Tuesdays from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Palace Theatre’s Education Building during the year and at First United Methodist Church, 410 East University Avenue, in the summer.
The class is part of the “Movin’ to Wellness” program for the Georgetown Parkinson’s Group and is coordinated and funded through Baylor Scott & White’s Plummer Movement Disorders Center, with help from the Georgetown Triathletes and other local groups.
For more information, contact Mary Jane Berry, Georgetown Parkinson’s Group facilitator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Nancy at email@example.com. Read more about support for people with Parkinson’s and their families at gtownview.com/2015/04/powerful-despite-parkinsons.