Copyright © 2012 The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research
Permission was granted to reprint in “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”
About a year ago, on one of his frequent trips to his beloved County Clare, Dr. Daniele Volpe, of Venice, Italy watched a man walk into a bar. Dr. Volpe was playing guitar in an Irish folk band, but he paused as he noticed the man’s slow, halting gait. These symptoms were familiar to Dr. Volpe – he works in a clinic that specializes in physiotherapy designed to help people with Parkinson’s disease (PD).
As Dr. Volpe resumed playing, he noticed the man rise from his seat in the bar, and he began to dance – traditional Irish set dance, he would later learn. Dr. Volpe smiled before the proverbial light went on in his noggin – could Irish set dance work as therapy for people struggling with the motor symptoms of PD? It was worth a shot. So, at last year’s Movement Disorders Society congress, he brought up the idea with the leading Irish neurologist Dr. Timothy Lynch, who was quickly also hooked.
Fast forward one year to last June in Dublin. That initial nugget culled from a bar in County Clare has turned into positive results from an observational study. It also became an MDS Congress performance by a team of Venetian Irish set dancers who all have PD.
Nate Herpich, associate director of research communications at The Michael J. Fox Foundation, sat down with Dr. Volpe between meetings here to learn a little bit more about his love for Irish music, and what set dancing (and other forms of exercise) could mean for people living with PD.
NH: Tell us about how you found your way to that bar in County Clare.
DV: I love Ireland, it is such a beautiful country, and I adore their music. I come to County Clare twice a year to play guitar in an Irish folk band, and on that day, I was playing alongside the famous banjo player Charlie Piggott. I noticed that this man used a cane to walk into the bar. But then he started dancing without any difficulty. I was impressed. I also noticed that he was using a real dance step, and immediately I thought that his steps could be particularly interesting when thinking about improving gait.
NH: What do you mean by the fact that the steps were “particularly interesting for improving gait?”
DV: First of all, there is much research that says that exercise in general is good for people with PD. But specifically, many with Parkinson’s have difficulty changing direction. Irish set dance allows people with PD to overcome freezing of gait when turning by maintaining a consistent step length (these steps are called “reel steps” in Irish dancing). Reel steps also help them to better transfer their weight more naturally. I believe this dancing may help people with Parkinson’s to re-learn how to make these movements.
NH: You also talk about “acoustic cues” being useful for people struggling with PD motor symptoms. What does this mean?
DV: In Parkinson’s disease, we’ve found that people move better sometimes under certain conditions. For example, they may see something take place in front of them that inspires them to walk forward, or,they may hear something that helps them to move better. Irish folk music has a very strong rhythm, so it may be that this helps the brain to recognize it’s time to move. Another factor which shouldn’t be discounted is the sense of community that dancing and music instills in patients. It can be a real motivating factor for people with PD who may not want to dance. By getting them to exercise, we are already making an important first step.
NH: Tell us more about the study’s findings on the whole, and what they could mean for people with PD.
DV: We recruited 24 subjects for the study, which took place over the course of six months. Twelve underwent traditional physiotherapy, while 12 more took Irish set dance courses (for two hours weekly) which I designed with the help of an Irish set dance studio in Venice (yes, it’s true!). I wanted to make sure that the steps were accurate from the perspective of physiotherapy. Then, we ran both groups through some clinical tests and gait analysis. Both experienced significant improvements in the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS), Berg Balance Scale (BBS), and in quality of life measurements like number of falls and walking speed. But in each case, the Irish set dance group improved more. Also, only the dance group experienced significant improvement in self-reported freezing of gait and in the Time Up and Go test (TUG). The dance group also showed a significant improvement in the Caregiver Burden Inventory (CBI), which suggests the high social value of Irish set dance. The results were very intriguing.
NH: What’s next? More Irish step dance at next year’s Congress?
DV: I hope so! This, of course, was a small study, so we’ll need to a real recruit more people for a large scale study to confirm the results. We’re also putting together an instruction manual which shows how you can implement Irish set dance into a real physiotherapeutic program incorporating evidence based medicine. There’s an Irish festival in Venice in 2013, and I’d love for us to be able to put on a larger scale performance then.
To learn more about the Fox Trial Finder and getting matched to a clinical trial in your area: www.foxtrialfinder.org
Fox Trial Finder is a web-based clinical trial matching tool to connect those with and without Parkinson’s disease to Parkinson’s clinical research opportunities that urgently need their participation. After volunteers input information about themselves (such as zip code, date of birth, and brief medical history), Fox Trial Finder provides trial match suggestions. Fox Trial Finder also provides the opportunity for volunteers to connect directly with trial coordinators through a secure messaging interface on the site. Register for Fox Trial Finder today to play a part in accelerating recruitment into PD clinical research!
“Dancing isn’t something that can be
explained in words, it has to be danced.”
My life seemed to revolve around Parkinson's until I discovered the Rockyettes more than 4 years ago. Now my life revolves around the Rockyettes, a dance troupe created by Ann Kennedy 15 years ago in Arvada, Colorado. Ann does it all—she’s the founder, director, instructor, choreographer and the costumer of the Rockyettes.
This is NOT a dance with Parkinson’s or dance for Parkinson’s group. It’s an opportunity for me to temporarily get away from Parkinson's and instead, focus on dance.
In fact, I may be the only active member of the dance troupe with Parkinson’s. And that’s just fine with me. I feel normal as I take classes, practice, attend rehearsals and perform with the dancers.
Members of the dance group have shared life’s ups and downs with illnessses, deaths and caring for ailing parents, but the focus remains on dance. The shows must go on in good times and bad.
We shared our love of dance with many audiences throughout the years as we did on June 7, 2012 when we celebrated our families and friends for their continuing support. Everyone pulled together to create a remarkable production. Our program included the following:
All Shook Up
Slide Some Oil to Me
Four Leaf Clover
No Bad News
Bye, Bye Blackbird
Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy
In the Mood
Hot Honey Rag
Swingtime in the Rockies
I'm in the middle of the first row in the photo below:
Paul and Carolyn Zeiger usually start off my individual yoga session with “What kind of exercising have you done lately?” I proudly say that I’ve danced eight times in the past seven days. Their follow-up question is “How does that affect your body?” Usually I list my physical complaints of stiffness, soreness, shakiness and slowness. Today I simply respond with “It makes me happy.”
I haven’t done a research study on the relationship between dancing and happiness. I can’t scientifically verify it, nor do I care to do so. But it’s something I just intuitively KNOW about myself that when I’m dancing, I’m happy.
It’s not only dancing with the Rockyettes that makes me happy, it’s everything that goes along with the dancing. It’s the satisfaction of learning a new dance routine. It’s the challenge in remembering the sequence of dance steps. It’s the camaraderie with the other dancers. It’s wearing the glittery costumes. It’s the thrill of performing in front of an audience, the enjoyment seen in their faces and the appreciation shown in their applause. But of utmost importance, it’s the opportunity to get away from Parkinson’s and feel normal once again.
Dancing is what makes life, even with Parkinson’s, worth living.
It happened once again last Friday. After a performance of the Rockyettes, the dance ensemble in Denver of which I am a member, someone from the audience, a professional dancer, approaches our director, Ann Kennedy. She praises our dance performance with one exception: the absence of smiles in the dancers.
The dancers rationalize that they were concentrating so hard on the dance routines that they fail to smile. I can start out dancing with a smile, and then when I reach a difficult passage, I grimace. Sometimes in the middle of a dance, I grin in disbelief that I am actually performing Broadway dance with Parkinson’s Disease, and in front of an audience.
I think there must be something out there that forces a consistent stunning smile. Sure enough, coming out of Japan, is a clever device called the Beauty Smile Trainer. It is an interesting gadget for all those who have ever been disappointed with the magnitude or shape of their smile. We all know that people tend to look more attractive when they are beaming. This is the principle behind the Beauty Smile Trainer. This device is reported to enhance your natural smile and also lessen drooping of your mouth.
The rubber gadget fits inside your mouth and is supposed to improve the look of your smile over time. I am not sure if one size fits all or if there are different sizes for different size mouths, but it looks uncomfortable all the same.
Most people are content flashing their regular smile. But if you are a dancer (or a person with Parkinson’s who finds it difficult to smile), then this may just be the item for you to develop your mile-wide smile.
I celebrated my 60th birthday this month. The average age of onset of Parkinson’s Disease is also 60. I never wanted to be average and with the diagnosis at the age of 46, I figure I’m better than average.
Rushing through childhood, I was always in a hurry to grow up. With Parkinson’s, I’m no longer rushing – it’s more like plodding. Yet, remarkably, I’m still dancing.
In celebration of my birthday, the Rockyettes danced at my party, and I joyfully danced 5 of the 15 dances with them. Ann Kennedy, the director of the Rockyettes, carefully chose the music that represented different aspects of my life, songs such as:
Kansas City – where I grew up and lived for my first 17 years
MacNamara’s Band – representing my Irish heritage
Welcome to the Sixties from Hairspray – because I was a teenager during the sixties and also just turned 60
California Girls – for the time we lived in California
Sing, Sing, Sing – representing my love of big band/swing music
And a surprise dance of Shake, Rattle and Roll, which is the name of my blog
It was the best birthday any 6 or 60 year old could ever have.
My classmtes from the class of 1967 from Hogan High School in Kansas City, MO
Looking Pretty Darn Good at 60
Front L to R: Kate Kelsall, Debbie Creasey; Back L to R: Kerry Neas, Mary Hobson. All currently are living in the Denver metro area.
I’ve been pondering Olie Westheimer’s question about what is unique about dance (versus exercise) that makes it so beneficial to those of us with Parkinson’s Disease.
The following are some random thoughts about why I prefer dancing with the Rockyettes over other forms of exercise for the management of my Parkinson’s symptoms.
As a former CPA, let’s face it: I dance and think like an accountant. I do what I do best: spreadsheets. I create a 3 column spreadsheet for each new dance that I learn.
1st column: lyrics
2nd column: written dance steps
3rd column: graphic (clip art) that depicts the step
By using all of the above methods– lyrics, written steps, graphics – I am more likely to remember.
Self-Cueing: In addition, I use self-cuing to remember the steps and sequences. Certain words in the lyrics and certain musical instruments in the songs remind me that I should be at a certain place in the dance. Also, I make up names to remind myself of the step. For example, one step reminds me of the Statute of Liberty, and I name it as such. Another dancer names a step "shaking the laundry" because it reminds her of that.
My class is made up of many retired teachers who have helped their students learn by creative methods, using all of their senses.
Focus: Dance helps me to focus and concentrate. It is important to focus on the current dance step/sequence while at the same time asking myself what step comes next. It's a form of multitasking, which most of us with Parkinson’s struggle with.
Visualization: Once I've learned a dance fairly well, I use mental rehearsal to solidify what I learned. Before bed, I visualize in my mind the entire dance with accompanying music. This only works if I already know the dance, otherwise I'm rehearsing errors in the movies of my mind.
Psychological Benefits: Dancing and depression/apathy are incompatible. It's impossible for me to be depressed while dancing. In class, our focus is on dance, not personal problems.
Power of the Group: Most of the Rockyettes are in their 60s and 70s. It appears that out of the 50 dancers, I am the only one with Parkinson’s, while some of the other dancers are dealing with serious health issues, e.g., cancer, rods in backs, etc. We see ourselves as dancers, not patients.
With the focus being on dance, I never think or feel like I have Parkinson’s when I dance. People tell me that they don't observe my Parkinson’s symptoms when I dance.
The experience that I have practicing my dance with the video at home in the basement is entirely different from dancing with the group in the dance studio. Any feelings of loneliness and isolation dissipate immediately when I enter the dance studio.
Also, not wanting to let down the other dancers motivates me to learn the dances.
Performing: One of the reasons that I joined the Rockyettes was because the group frequently performs at different retirement communities and at various events (including my upcoming sweet 60th birthday party in October). For someone with strong performance needs such as me, dancing provides the perfect outlet. It is rewarding to dance to appreciative audiences, and we are inspired to keep on dancing.
I’m in the front row, last person on the right.
Her eyes are closed, and she seems lost in the music.
Her moves are slow and purposeful. She tells the class to take deep breaths and reach upward.
The five students, a hodgepodge of elderly and middle-aged men and women, sit in folding chairs and do exactly as she says.
"It's amazing how, if you have a tremor, it will disappear during this song," Willis, 73, tells them. "These moves are difficult for us, but the music overcomes it."
Two things have brought them together in this mirrored studio in southwest Colorado Springs: Parkinson's disease, and a belief that dancing and movement can help fight it.
For an hour each week, they march, they balance, they dance back and forth to music, all with the idea that they can use movement to combat a disease infamous for taking it away. Some of their caregivers also participate.
"Parkinson's wants to take you and fold you in half and never let you go," Willis says, as the students prepare to stand beside their chairs and lift one leg off the ground.
Every move is a way to slowly unfold again.
Willis' class, held at Spectrum Wellness and Rehabilitation Center, was born out of her personal experience with the disease.
A dancer since her youth, she was diagnosed in 1999.
She consulted a hand surgeon when writing became difficult. He sent her to a neurologist who immediately suspected Parkinson's.
For someone who'd built so much of her life around movement, getting diagnosed with a disease made famous for robbing people of mobility was an especially cruel blow.
She decided to keep dancing, if for no other reason than to preserve her peace of mind. To her surprise, the sessions seemed to help with the symptoms.
She had better balance, better posture and more smoothness in her motion.
Her neurologist, impressed with her progress, urged her to start a class for others.
Unknown to her, a similar program was taking place in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Eight years ago, Olie Westheimer, a dancer married to a prominent Parkinson's researcher, started a Parkinson's support group in Brooklyn to help her husband in his job.
Westheimer was looking for activities to help patients get their minds off the disease when she learned that the world-famous Mark Morris Dance Group had moved to town.
She called to see whether the group would be interested in hosting her support group.
The program has been featured in the national media and has become a model that's led to startup programs worldwide, Westheimer said.
The idea began with a love of dance, but, like Willis, she quickly began to realize its benefit as a kind of therapy.
"The aim of the class is to try to move as beautifully as you can."
"It sounds crazy, but it works," Westheimer said.
Willis' students have said they are able to move a little more freely during and after their classes. But anecdotes don't go far in science, and researchers are in the early stages of exploring how movement and exercise affect the disease.
One such researcher is Margaret Schenkman of the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, who is leading a study to examine a variety of exercises for differences in their effectiveness against Parkinson's.
Previous studies have shown exercise to be beneficial to Parkinson's patients, she said, but whether that's because it somehow helps repair the brain or simply compensates for the disease's deficits is a mystery. Some animal studies have linked exercise with reversing the progression of the disease, but what happens in animals doesn't always prove true in humans.
Her study is at least a year away from completion.
Willis, a retired nurse who worked in neurology, and Westheimer are both well-versed in science, as well as dance, and they say the intersection of performing arts and Parkinson's is not as strange as it might seem at first.
Dance, they say, requires an intense focus on movement, balance, vision and a number of other techniques you might find in a physical therapy session.
"You'd never have a dancer saying, ‘Oh, I use cognitive strategies to dance,'" said Westheimer, but that's exactly what they're doing
"Science is now beginning to understand what dancers know."
Willis said the "mindfulness" of dance and the power of music add something that other exercise does not.
Dr. Brian Grabert, a neurologist at Colorado Springs Health Partners, treats about 200 Parkinson's patients, including Willis and some people involved in her dance program.
In general, he said, those who exercise appear more upbeat and less apathetic, and they tend to report having fewer falls, one of the most serious consequences of the disease as it progresses.
There's one thing that Parkinson's patients find in these classes that they can't find in a doctor's office or rehab session: fun.
Ric Pfarrer, 55, a financial planner and president of a Parkinson's support group, attends Willis' class. He said the chance to come together and have a good time with patients going through the same thing can be as valuable as any physical benefit.
That's a sentiment shared by many others.
Peggy Robinson, 60, said, "I like feeling like I'm not all alone."
At Westheimer's classes, in fact, talk about Parkinson's is not allowed because the emotional escape is one of its strengths. "There's no problem talked about in our class," she said. "We're just dancing."
Considering that 80 percent of Parkinson's sufferers have experienced bouts of depression and report feeling isolated, that's nothing to take lightly.
Grabert said apathy is one of the most common mood disorders associated with the disease, but that's not something he's seen in Willis and other Parkinson's patients who dance.
I have to admit that I was both embarrassed and flattered to discover that I was featured in Bob Dawson's blog, Parkinson's Patients: Yes We Can Dance.
From his home in rural Quebec, Canada, Bob monitors the worldwide activities of Parkies who are trying to fend off the monster through dance and music. He spotted me playing my accordion in the flower garden. Thank you, Bob, for sharing my story at: http://parkinsonsdance.blogspot.com/2006/05/chapter-17.html
“It takes two to tango, two to tango
Two to really get the feeling of romance
Let's do the tango, do the tango
Do the dance of love.”
I should have been suspicious when reading the course description of the tango class sponsored by the local senior center. "Argentine Tango: This dance will touch your romantic soul. In this introductory class, you will learn what it takes to lead and follow. We’ll start in open embrace and progress to close embrace. No experience is needed and no need for a dance partner.”
My husband, Tom and I have had a brief history of couples dancing. In a ballroom dancing class about 25 years ago, the teacher, a burly German woman, grabbed me while her partner, a petite German man, snatched Tom to demonstrate a dance step. We quickly waltzed out of that class during the break, never to return to ballroom dancing.
Line dancing classes were a bit easier to manage because the difference in our heights wasn’t a factor (Tom is 6’4” and I am 5’1” and shrinking). But then we got older and memorizing the sequences of the line dancing steps became a struggle.
I had heard about the benefits of tango for Parkinson’s patients, and I wanted to give couples dancing another try. I coaxed and cajoled Tom to take a tango class with me, and he reluctantly agreed.
When we arrived at the class, tango music was blaring from the boom box. Three young couples and a single woman were nervously waiting for the class to begin. Then, the instructor, a tall blond woman from Boulder not Argentina, instructed us to “face your partner and stand closer together than you would in most other ballroom dances – close enough that your torsos are touching.” Our torsos were touching, which meant that my head was facing Tom’s lower rib cage.
We were further instructed that the leader of the couple (Tom) was to place his right hand on the middle of my lower back and for Tom to extend his left hand out to his side with his arm bent while grasping my right hand in a loose grip. As the follower, I was to place my left hand on Tom’s right shoulder while placing my right hand in Tom’s palm with my elbow bent. By then, I was on my tiptoes trying to reach Tom’s shoulder and hand. Now that we were “comfortable,” we were instructed on how to do the tango walk – Tom walking forward and I walking backwards. Every several minutes the tango teacher ordered us to switch partners and to change positions from leader to follower. Reflecting back on that night is mostly a blur except for the pain of walking backwards for an hour.
After the lesson, Tom and I agreed that the tango is much too intimate of a dance to stand torso to torso with a stranger while in open embrace and progressing to a close embrace.
We decided to stick to dances of the past where we can dance independently without a partner – dances like the twist, pony, mashed potato and swim – recognizing that it takes two to tango.
From his home in rural Quebec, Bob Dawson posts on his blog, Parkinson's Patients: Yes We Can Dance. He reports amazing stories from around the globe about the benefits of dance for Parkinson's patients. His latest post is from Israel at: http://parkinsonsdance.blogspot.com/2009/02/chapter-15.html
Thank you, Bob, for sharing your collection of dancing with Parkinson's stories. They inspire me to keep on dancing.
Here’s a story from NPR confirming the benefits of dance for those living with Parkinson’s Disease:
Parkinson's Patients Find Grace in Dance by Jacki Lyden
Listen to the story at:
Bob Dawson’s blog, Parkinson’s Patients: Yes We Can Dance
Exercise, Your Options: Alternative Approaches for Those with Parkinson’s Disease by Gammon M. Earhart, PhD, PT, Washington University in St. Louis, Program in Physical Therapy, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Why tango instead of traditional exercise?
· Movement initiation
· Instability (particularly backwards)
· Reduced stride length
In a study comparing tango with waltz/foxtrot, Tai Chi and no intervention, the training sessions involved:
Results indicated that:
From my own experience in dancing with the Rockyettes, I have also found that dancing in a social setting improves my motivation to exercise.
In pursuit of anything that keeps me moving, I will be looking for tango dance classes.
I am preoccupied with hands.
When I look at the long fingers and relaxed hands of others in my Rockyettes dance ensemble, I am jealous. In contrast, my fingers are short, and my hands are often clenched and achy.
As a child, I was ashamed by my nail-bitten hands. Embarrassment led to clenching.
As an adult when diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a number of neurological tests were administered that involved my hands such as:
Shaky hands have caused me to hide my hands in my pocket or behind my back. While my hands are less shaky since deep brain stimulation, my clenched fists remain.
I am determined to combat my clenched hand problem. I suspect that it’s something similar to speaking loudly and remembering to cue myself by “Think Loud.”
I’m cuing myself all the time with these self-commands:
Last September when I signed up for Broadway dance classes with the Rockyettes, I had no idea what I lie ahead.
The Rockyettes' last dance performance of the season was on June 13, we turned in our glittery costumes and celebrated with a good-bye lunch on June 18. Our classes resume in September, but I am down in the dumps trying to figure out how I will spend my free time. I was never good at free time and if a course was offered on “how to relax,” I definitely would fail.
I love being a Rockyette because…
I feel healthy.
While I've heard murmurings of hip and knee replacements, strokes, heart attacks, cancer and rods in backs of some of the Rockyettes, at this point, I seem to be the only one diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. I like their attitude. They’ve heard it all, and it’s no big deal. The show must go on regardless.
I feel young.
Someone in the audience, who presumably was visually impaired, asked “Who is that little girl dancing with your group?” I chuckled when I discovered she was inquiring about me. Isn’t it ironic to look like a little girl but have an old person’s disease like Parkinson's?
I feel tall.
In the above photo, I’m the “little girl” on the far left. With the top hats, it’s difficult to determine if I’m the shortest dancer in the group, but at 5”1” (and shrinking) it’s safe to assume that I’m not the tallest. Dancing with tall women makes me feel tall.
I have high performance needs and love to entertain.
The Rockyettes certainly helped with my high performance needs. With nine performances in the month of May alone, as a group we’ve had lots of opportunities to entertain.
I admire Ann Kennedy, the director of the Rockyettes (also the founder, producer, instructor, choreographer and costumer).
Her unfailing patience and ready smile have brought joy to our lives as well as those for whom we have danced.
I am blessed to be a Rockyette.
Click on photo for larger image. I am filled with excitement and nerves. I drive into the parking lot at the North Jeffco Community Recreation Center in Arvada, Colorado at 5:30 PM last Friday night. This is the main event of the season for the Rockyettes, a tap and Broadway dance ensemble. I am dancing tonight as a relatively new member of this group.
Click on photo for larger image.
I am filled with excitement and nerves. I drive into the parking lot at the North Jeffco Community Recreation Center in Arvada, Colorado at 5:30 PM last Friday night. This is the main event of the season for the Rockyettes, a tap and Broadway dance ensemble. I am dancing tonight as a relatively new member of this group.
Earlier today, my hairdresser transformed my hair into a sassy style and put on stage makeup including the requisite red lipstick. There is something about red lipstick that encourages me to develop a different persona. I am sweating through my makeup on this hot summer afternoon.
I walk into the building and into the theatre where 260 chairs are set up for tonight’s performance. Fifty women dancers, mostly seniors, wait to rehearse the closing bows. Each dance group has its own timetable of when to go on stage and how to bow. The music of “Can-Can” is blaring in the background.
The rehearsal is over at 6:00 PM, and the doors to the public are opened. My husband, Tom drove separately. He waits in line with his two pans of homemade poppy seed coffee cake, baked from scratch by Tom himself, recipe courtesy of his late Czechoslovakian mother. This has become Tom’s signature recipe. Once people try it, they are addicted. It must be the poppy seeds.
My friend, Janet, calls earlier to confirm that a group of 17 people are accompanying her to tonight’s performance. I assume that the 17 are from her line dancing class. Ten other people confirm their attendance directly with me so now I am up to 27. I am stunned.
I am also surprised to see two men waiting in line that I knew from an accordion band that I played with several years ago. One of the men even had his accordion in tow because he was afraid that if he left the accordion in the car, the wax in the reeds would melt.
I proceed to the dressing room at 6:00, still astonished that so many people would choose to spend their Friday evening watching the dancing seniors. The Rockyettes performance begins precisely at 6:30 and ends exactly at 7:45. We move like clockwork, with beautifully designed costumes, different for each number. I dance in two of the Broadway dance songs.
When we enter the stage, I look directly into the audience. I cannot see anyone because the lights are turned down except for the stage lights, which are turned up. I see a silhouette of Tom who is snapping pictures at stage left. I dance and smile to the presumably full house, not knowing whom from those I invited are in attendance. The dancers are having fun and at that moment, everything else doesn’t matter.
After the finale of “Can-Can” and the closing bows, the house lights are turned on. I head off stage for the main floor to visit with friends and enjoy refreshments, including Tom’s coffee cake.
The biggest shock of the evening is seeing my accordion teacher and band director, Alice with her band members that I played with in my earlier Parkinson’s days. Alice conducts an accordion band every Friday night. The previous Friday, Janet (yes, the same Janet, a line dancer and accordionist who invited 17 people) informed the band that she wouldn’t be attending the following Friday because she wanted to see me dance. Alice’s and the band members immediate responses were “me too.” Alice cancelled band for the following week. In the 14 years that I have known Alice, she never cancelled band for any reason. This was a first for Alice.
And this was a first for me… While dancing tonight, I feel and look as though I don’t have Parkinson’s.
It seems like we are all dancing out of our comfort zones.
Dancing with Parkinson's continues to be a hot topic. On CBS Evening News on April 15, Katie Couric did a segment featuring Pamela Quinn and dancing with Parkinson's.
Dancer Stays on Her Toes - Despite Disease
CBS Evening News, April 15, 2008
Also, Pamela Quinn wrote an article in Dance Magazine in December 2007. See link:
Moving Through Parkinson's
By Pamela Quinn
Dance Magazine, December 2007
Rocking with the Rockyettes
Dancing with Parkinson's
Click on photo for larger image
Rocking with the Rockyettes
Story by Kate Kelsall
Copyright © 2008
Photo by Linda Crist
Costume by Ann Kennedy
I always wanted to be a tall, long-legged dancer performing with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Hovering around five feet with short legs, I didn't quite meet the 5'6"-5'10" height requirements. Besides I live in Colorado and have Parkinson's disease (PD).
Nearly 12 years ago, I was diagnosed with PD, a chronic, progressive brain disorder that causes shaky limbs, slowness of movement, stiff joints, and poor balance. Theoretically, I shouldn't be able to dance with PD.
However, to challenge myself, I recently enrolled in a Broadway dance class. I didn't realize that the dancers in the class would be expected to perform with the Rockyettes—Colorado’s answer to the Rockettes. The Rockyettes are a Colorado dance troupe of young-at-heart women who dance and perform to Broadway show tunes. While I am learning Broadway dance, others take tap dancing lessons and the brave ones take classes in both. Ann Kennedy, the fearless and exuberant leader, wears multiple hats in her roles as director, choreographer, costume designer, and seamstress.
When I dance with the Rockyette’s, I look and feel as though I don’t have Parkinson's. I exhibit few visible signs of my movement disorder when dancing with this troupe—no tremor, no dyskinesia, and little stiffness or slowness in the dance moves. For example, when I perform to “Singing in the Rain,” my body is transformed into that of my pre-Parkinson's self. I have even heard of people with PD who have difficulty walking, but somehow manage to dance.
In addition to the physical symptoms of PD, I also suffer some cognitive difficulties. I have some problems with memory impairment, focusing my attention, getting distracted, shifting attention, and slowness of thinking. I don't have the mental flexibility that I once had. With my PD brain, it takes more than repetition to remember dance steps and recall the sequence of the dance combinations.
I tackle my PD-related cognitive problems as I would in my pre-PD days when working as a Certified Public Accountant. I scrutinize the dance video, starting and stopping the tape until I can identify the dance steps. For each song, I set up a spreadsheet on the computer with two columns—the lyrics to the song in the left column and the corresponding dance steps in the right column. Often the dance version of the song has no lyrics so I locate the lyrics on the Internet and cut and paste them to the left column.
Dance has improved my posture as well as improved my balance, body alignment, cardiovascular health, and muscle tone. Dancing boosts my brain power. My aging, PD brain is sharpened by memorizing the dance steps and particularly challenged by learning the sequences of dance combinations.
The social aspects of dancing with a group are often underrated. Practicing the dance steps on my own doesn’t provide the same social benefits I get from dancing with the group. It lifts my spirits to be a part of a community that shares its joy of dancing with others.
I’ll never be good enough to dance with the Rockettes, but I can still have fun dancing and performing with the Rockyettes. I’m letting go of my perfectionism. I’m now enjoying doing what I really want to do, for as long as I am able to do it.
Instructor Leading Dance Students Back Into Step
By Chris Dimick
Finding New Life Through Movement
By Dawn Fallik
Parkinson's Sufferers Get Their Groove Back Through Dance
By Anne Gehris
Dancing with Parkinson’s
By Kate Kelsall
I knew that I was an anomaly as a person with Parkinson’s who plays the accordion. I was hoping that I wasn’t the only one with Parkinson’s who experiences the joy of dancing. I was delighted to learn that others feel the same: patients are dancing, journalists are writing, and doctors are researching the benefits of dancing for Parkinson’s patients.
The following is list of what I've discovered so far:
Striking a Chord
By Anthony A. Davis
Apple Magazine, July-August, 2006, pages 26-30
Parkinson's Sufferers Get Their Groove Back Through Dance
By Anne Gehris
Columbia News Service Nov. 1, 2005
Finding New Life Through Movement
By Dawn Fallik
Why Exercise Helps People With Movement Disorders
By Dawn Fallik
Neurology Now, Jan/Feb 2007
Getting Their Groove Back, With Help from the Magic of Dance
By Rosyln Sulcas
New York Times August 25, 2007
Mark Morris Dance Class Aids Parkinson's Sufferers
By Joyce Shelby
New York Daily News, Oct. 23, 2007
Tango Improves Balance, Mobility In Patients With Parkinson's Disease
Dancing: Could It Provide a Clue to Curing Parkinson’s?
By Cynthia Ross Cravit
Moving Through Parkinson's
By Pamela Quinn
Dance Magazine, December 2007
Dancer Stays on Her Toes - Despite Disease
CBS Evening News, April 15, 2008
Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain
By Oliver Sacks
Parkinson's Patients: Yes We Can Dance
Rocking with the Rockyettes