Dancers are described as many things. Graceful. Beautiful. Creative. Artistic. All are certainly true, but at the heart of it, professionally trained dancers are movement experts. For the 10 million people worldwide that are living with Parkinson’s disease, dancers can provide a unique form of therapy.
A dancer’s expert knowledge about balance, sequencing, rhythm and aesthetic awareness is useful for those with Parkinson’s disease. Founded in 2001 in New York City, Dance for PD provides specialized dance classes to people with Parkinson’s, as well as their families, friends and care partners.
In 2013, trainers from the New York program came to Jackson to lead a teacher training course. Krista Bower, Chair of the Belhaven University Dance Department, was able to get involved and helped launch an affiliate class in Jackson.
“Our participants come from all over the Jackson metro area and some of them have been dancing with us since the beginning of the program,” said Bower. “Our students range from the newly diagnosed to those using canes, walkers or even wheelchairs. All dance phrases are modified by a co-instructor so that everyone can participate and fully enjoy the class.”
The classes are held on Monday evenings on the Millsaps campus. Faculty and students from Belhaven, Millsaps and the University of Mississippi Medical Center are highly involved.
“Dance is a wonderful activity for all people, and specifically for people with Parkinson’s disease because it instills grace, confidence, freedom and fluidity of movement while also building creativity and a sense of community,” added Bower.
Mariah Henry, a senior dance major at Belhaven, chose to research and participate in the Dance for Parkinson’s classes as part of her senior project. She choreographed and printed a dance work that involved Belhaven dance students as well as members of the Dance for Parkinson’s class. Junior dance major Andi Knudson filmed and edited a documentary on the program for her Choreography for the Camera coursework last spring.
“Through this program, students from Belhaven and Millsaps have had the opportunity to engage with community members and to use their gifts to serve others,” said Bower. “They learn about new ways to apply their knowledge from the fields of dance and neuroscience in service to the community.”