Group dances and forgets about Parkinson’s
Three Wednesday mornings a month, a group of devoted friends gets together to dance at the Orleans Council on Aging. Their limbs sometime struggle with the moves, but the happy expressions on their faces are perfectly in keeping with the name of the group: Dance for Joy with Parkinson’s Disease.
Dance for Joy is led by dance instructors Dorothy Beaton and Katherine Whitelaw, who were colleagues at the Boston Conservatory years ago and are happy to have the opportunity to collaborate once again.
Former Elaine Chase dancer Jane McDonald started the group as an offshoot of the Orleans Parkinson’s Support Group. McDonald was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2007. As a dancer, she was excited to learn about choreographer Mark Morris’ Dance for PD program. The program began as a collaboration with the Brooklyn Parkinson Group in 2001. It is now being offered in over 100 communities in 13 countries.
“Now that I have Parkinson’s, I don’t know what it’s going to be like from day to day,” McDonald said. “Every day is different, so I pursued the Mark Morris training.”
Research shows that Morris’ program does in fact improve the lives of those with Parkinson’s Disease. One study indicated that participants saw a 10.4 percent improvement in their motor scores. Other studies show improvement with balance, gait and locomotion.
But the value of the class is far more than physical. Participants in the first study reported a better sense of mental health and quality of life. They used words like “graceful,” “symptom-free,” “much happier,” “confident,” and “exhilarated” to describe the impact of the class.
Members of Dance for Joy feel the same way.
“It is wonderful because everything in life is far too serious and we have a lot of fun here,” said Roberta Risch.
Risch was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease 17 years ago.
“It’s good to come to dance and forget,” she said. “When you have Parkinson’s you feel like there is an alien living in your body. That’s how it feels. So it’s very nice to have something like this.”
“That’s the important part,” said Beaton. “In your mind, dance can transport you beyond Parkinson’s.”
On a recent visit the class began with a seated warm-up dance with hands and feet, set to a song by Chopin. Next, things got lively with “In the Mood,” by the Glenn Miller Orchestra.
The dances are all designed to be able to be done either sitting or standing and the class follows a logical sequence of movement that builds slowly.
“The music makes it easier to move,” said Gail Glanville, who attends as her husband’s support partner. “The social aspects of our gathering are just as important as the dance. We go to so many therapies. When we come in here, it’s not therapy. It’s dance.”
Marsha DuBeau who attends as her husband Bob DuBeau’s caregiver said that there is a physical aspect to the dancing that is very helpful for strength and balance. Like most people with Parkinson’s her husband struggles with hills because he has trouble controlling his speed on them.
“Parkinson’s is called a movement disorder, so using dance to get moving is wonderful,” DuBeau says. “For me this class is spiritual therapy.”
Dance for Joy meets at 9:30 a.m. on the first, second and fourth Wednesdays every month at the Orleans Council on Aging Senior Center. The program is free and welcomes anyone with Parkinson’s to join them. Care partners have the option of participating or dropping their spouse off. The Parkinson’s Support Network of Cape Cod offers a similar class at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesdays at the YMCA Cape Cod in West Barnstable.