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Dance for Parkinson’s Australia Background

Dance for PD® is a collaboration between the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group (BPG). MMDG/BPG started offering free dance classes for people with Parkinson’s in 2001, after BPG’s Executive Director Olie Westheimer approached MMDG with the initial idea for a class. Since 2005, the two organizations have expanded the Dance for PD® program into more than 100 other communities around the world by engaging participants in Dance for PD® master classes, training teachers through intensive workshops, and nurturing relationships among organizations so that ongoing classes are available to local communities.

The Dance for Parkinson’s Australia program started through an initial Dance for PD® presentation at the National Parkinson’s Conference in Brisbane in 2012. Since then, Director Erica Rose Jeffrey has worked with the dance and Parkinson’s communities to share the joys of dance classes for people with Parkinson’s. Working with Dance for PD® founding teacher and Program Director David Leventhal, the first Australian teacher training workshops were offered in May of 2013 in Sydney and Brisbane at Queensland Ballet.

Photos: Dance Demo at National Parkinson’s Conference 2012 –  click here to view images

Dance for PD Short Summary

The Dance for PD program, which originated at the Mark Morris Dance Center in 2001, offers specialized dance classes accompanied by live music for people with Parkinson’s, their caregivers, family members and friends.  Professional teaching artists integrate movement from modern, ballet, tap, folk and social dancing, and choreographic repertory to engage participants’ minds and bodies and create an enjoyable, social environment for artistic exploration. Because Dance for PD focuses on the aesthetic movement of dance rather than acting as therapy,  participants in class are encouraged to approach movement like dancers rather than as patients. Dance for PD classes provide a social environment for participants to interact with other community members, and to share a positive, stimulating activity together with their partners. Participants report that the classes boost their confidence levels, transform their attitudes about living with a chronic illness, and help them manage some of the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease.  Consistent interaction within the close-knit community of the dance class helps to combat social isolation and depression while empowering participants with a sense of physical possibility and artistic achievement.

Professional dancers, with their many years of training and experience, are movement experts by nature, and their knowledge is extremely useful to persons with PD.  They know all about stretching and strengthening muscles, and work every day with the issues of balance and rhythm. Most importantly, dancers know how to use their thoughts, imagination, eyes, ears, and touch to control their movements.

Dance for PD classes engage thought, senses and imagination in the service of movement. Teachers encourage participants to use images, narrative, and musical input to hone control over how they express themselves physically. Active demonstration by professional dancers inspires participants to recapture grace, while guided improvisation fosters creativity.

Teaching artists integrate movement from modern and theater dance, ballet, folk dance, tap, improvisation, and Choreographer Mark Morris’ work to engage the participants’ minds and bodies, and create an enjoyable, social environment for artistic exploration. The program emphasizes dancing for dancing’s sake.  It is an aesthetic experience that focuses on developing artistry and grace while addressing such PD-specific concerns as balance, flexibility, coordination, gait, social isolation and depression.

  • Classical and contemporary technique training taught through a progressive warm-up builds strength, flexibility and coordination skills
  • Improvisation and aesthetic interpretation stimulate creativity and the imagination
  • Choreographic repertory and new movement sequences help participants develop cognitive strategies
  • Circle dances, line dances and scene work foster social interaction and create a sense of connection and community
  • Strong musicality informs every aspect of the class so that melody, structure and rhythm guide and inspire participants’ physical and emotional exploration and expression.
  • Families, friends and caregivers are welcomed and included in all class activities to foster mutually positive perceptions and relationships