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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
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Dancing with Parkinson’s
By Kate Kelsall