Hi! My name is Connie and I am interning with Dance for Parkinson’s Disease, which utilizes dancers and their knowledge of movement to teach people with Parkinson’s and their caregivers. I provide administrative support, volunteer in the many New York locations, manage databases, and contribute to existing research projects.
For a little background information, Parkinson’s is a movement disorder that manifests uniquely from person to person. Though Parkinson’s typically affects older adults, there are cases of early-onset Parkinson’s (defined as before 50). This is a rapidly increasing condition that is affecting our aging populations and currently affects an estimated 7-10 million people. The current knowledge about the biological basis of Parkinson’s is that it is caused by the degeneration of dopaminergic neurons although the cause is unknown. The most well-known symptoms are tremors and shaking but other symptoms can include dyskinesia (involuntary muscle movements), freezing (often in doorways), and soft speech or difficulty speaking. Aside from the physical symptoms are the psycho-social which can include depression and isolation.
With regards to the free Dance for PD classes, to clarify, it is NOT a therapy which attempts to solve a “problem” but rather a dance class that creatively addresses symptom-specific concerns related to balance, cognition, motor-skills, and more in a social and supportive environment.
As I’ve gotten to know some of the participants, there are a few vignettes I’d like to share to give some insight about a few of the people that I’ve come to know (with names changed for privacy):
There’s Neal who told me after class one day that he actually started coming to class because his Medicare ran out and he knew he needed something to keep moving. He said he would never have envisioned himself as a dancer and actually didn’t participate in a performance because he didn’t think he counted. But as we were chatting and waiting for his Access-a-Ride (nicknamed Stress-a-Ride by program participants), he mentioned that he had accidentally placed himself as the star of the livestreams so why shouldn’t he consider himself a dancer?
There’s Josephine who on this particular day wasn’t feeling up to standing but the teacher was demonstrating a particularly movement-filled partner dance. It’s completely possible that her eyes were just watery but I thought I saw tears in her eyes as she said that she wished she could still dance like that. Unsure of what exactly to say or how best to respond, I pulled up a chair and asked if she could be my dance partner and we worked through a seated version with arms and rhythm just as extravagant as the instructors.
And there’s Kelly who between the Sing and Dance classes said “you get all shriveled up and sink into yourself but here you can expand with your body AND voice. You have to remember there’s more to Parkinson’s than the tremor. This is a great community and here you don’t have to pretend—you can just relax and not be ‘normal’.”