Dance and disease merge to nourish the body and soul
IT'S a coupling of opposites - dance and disease merging to nourish the body and soul. Contemporary dance strives to connect the mind and body through fluid dance movements. On the other hand, Parkinson's disease damages nerve cells in a region of the brain that is vital for the smooth control of muscles and movement. Ironically, it is the synergy between these two opposites, that hold the flames to produce a dynamic ball of healing energy.
Last month, dancers, doctors, scientists and dance teachers gathered to share scientific evidence to support the known therapeutic benefits of dance at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta, Sydney. But showing is often more powerful than telling, and in this case Canberra-based dance troupe "Offbeat", a group of older people living with Parkinson's Disease and coached under the 'Dance for Parkinson's Disease' concept, proved the efficacy of dance to stimulate both muscles and mind in their 'I used to run marathons' performance, choreographed by Jane Ingall and Philip Piggin with the dancers.
The aesthetic beauty of this spellbinding performance, danced to the 'Chariots of Fire' theme music, pushed boundaries with quiet, expansive and intricate movements. On its conclusion the powerful expression ensured there wasn't a dry eye left among an audience of more than 200 people.
The story of 'Dance for Parkinson's Disease' started as a single collaborative program between the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group in 2001, but it wasn't until 2012 that it arrived in Australia through a performance held in Brisbane at the National Parkinson's Conference (Brisbane). Since then, Dr Erica Rose Jeffery, Director for Dance for Parkinson's Australia, has worked with the dance and Parkinson's communities to share the joys of dance.
Over the past 17 years, Dance for PD has pioneered an arts-based approach which is being adopted by dance companies and schools, Parkinson's groups and healthcare organisations in more than 60 communities around the world. The concept sees participants encouraged to approach movement like dancers rather than as patients. The teachers, professional dancers with many years of experience, know all about stretching and strengthening muscles, and work every day with issues of balance and rhythm. Most importantly, dancers know how to use thoughts, imagination, eyes, ears and touch to control their movement. Teachers also encourage participants to use images, narrative and musical input to hone control over how they express themselves physically.
The Offbeat dance group commenced in 2013 in the ACT. It developed in response to the dance program specifically designed for People with Parkinson's, and the inspirational leadership of Erica Rose Jeffrey in Australia, and David Leventhal in Brooklyn, USA. The program is presented by Parkinson's ACT, with Belconnen Arts Centre and Tuggeranong Arts Centre, and is presently funded by a 3 year grant from ACT Health.
- Research was carried out at Queensland University of Technology to assess the effect of dance on gait and dual -tasking in PD, Dance for Parkinson's classes based on the Dance for Parkinson's Disease model was conducted by trained instructors from the Queensland Ballet. Preliminary analysis indicate that dance has improved gait, speed during normal and dual-tasking, with enhancement in emotional well-being and quality of life.