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The Power of Dance—for Parkinson’s Disease

When the New York-based Mark Morris School of Dance performed at the Mondavi Arts Center, we were totally overwhelmed by their talent and creativity. Then we learned that one of their partners had dropped out to manage an outreach group called Dance for PD® (Parkinson’s disease), founded in 2001. Mondavi Arts Center was one of the first to sponsor a grant to begin a dance program for Parkinson’s patients that would meet 90 minutes each week. That was 15 years ago, and Parkinson’s patients like me have benefitted ever since.

From the very beginning, I was awed by the power of dance. It has transformed and alleviated my leg and back pain. Despite the steady advance of Parkinson’s, we show up. We move. We laugh. We share our best selves. Some participants never seem to change, while others show tremendous improvement. But we are all there to share our love of dance in one way or another. As our dance style and that of the group melded, we began to understand the benefit of moving together. We arrived totally beat and worn out, and left filled with the joy—musically, physically, emotionally and socially. Each week I was moved to lead the group in singing. When the professional dance instructor and her assistants ask us to dance in a perfect straight line, I will bring top hats and our group will look like the chorus line in One.

Dance for PD is more than an innovative, internationally acclaimed form of therapy—it’s a dose of meaningfulness for me. It made me appreciate what I could still do. I’ve witnessed the profound love that exists between Mary and Ed, as he guides her around the room and helps transform her rough gait. He gets us working on something that helps us feel connected.

The weekly classes allow people with Parkinson’s to experience the joys and benefits of dance while creatively addressing symptom-specific concerns related to balance, cognition, motor skill, depression and physical confidence. The program’s fundamental working principle is that professionally trained dancers are “movement experts” whose knowledge about balance, sequencing, rhythm and aesthetic awareness is useful to persons with PD.

We integrate movement from modern ballet, tap, folk and social dancing. Choreographic repertory engages our minds and bodies and creates an enjoyable, social environment for artistic exploration. Thanks to Mark Morris and Mondavi Arts Center for Dance for PD. What a gift!