RACHEL HORWELL (IN BLUE) WITH SOME OF THE DANCE TROUPE FROM PORIRUA
VOL. 19 – NO.2
THE NOVICES DANCE GROUP IN WAIKATO SWING INTO ACTION
Dance for Parkinson’s In this issue of the Parkinsonian, we feature dance as a form of exercise that is especially helpful for many people with Parkinson’s. On Friday mornings in Porirua, near Wellington, a group of people with Parkinson’s embark on a movement and sensory experience that they find so liberating some of them even forget for a time they have Parkinson’s. They participate in the engaging, hugely fun DaNZability dance classes run at the Porirua Club by dancer and physiotherapist, Rachel Horwell. About 20 participants attend the class including people with Parkinson’s and others with, among other conditions, arthritis, heart disease, lung disease, dementia, or who’ve had a stroke. During the first part of the hour-long class, everybody is sitting. Then they stand up and take part in choreographed movement activities that have them moving and grooving in a way that belies their everyday motor challenges. It’s clear that dancing helps people move more easily and they are more balanced while engaged with the dance class activities.
A number of academic studies have shown a positive relationship between dance and Parkinson’s outcomes including improved and eased movement and noted the positive benefits to mitigate non-motor symptoms, such as low mood. For example the Journal of Neural Transmission published a paper last year, and the European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, published a supportive article in 2009.
WHY IS DANCING SO GOOD FOR PARKINSON’S? Rachel says: “There is the musical element, and music stirs the soul and this combined with the imagery we use lights up different areas of the brain. Parkinson’s is a movement disorder and dancing is all about learning to move with grace. It helps people improve their flexibility, muscle strength and endurance. “Parkinson’s affects the automatic movements, with dancing we are conscious how we are moving making it easy to move. Above all else, dancing is enjoyable, releasing happy hormones through our body and lifting our mood.” Rachel’s dancers, now consisting of a solid group of regulars mostly aged over 50, have to think about the movements they are making in class and can’t think about their Parkinson’s at the same time. So they have a “break.” Rachel says using one’s imagination can add a lot to the experience too. “The class is taught as a dance class using dance terminology; it is an opportunity to be a dancer rather than a person with Parkinson’s.” Rachel’s awareness of the challenges faced by people with Parkinson’s allows her to adapt the class to include additional cues including imagery to help people move with more grace.
“Exercise is medicine.” The dancing is also community building. People may suddenly realise they are part of a community and feel part of that. People are not just a diagnosis they are a dancer.