Northwestern Medicine, with The Joffrey Ballet, recently launched Dancing With Parkinson’s, a research-backed program that aims to enhance physical, mental and emotional well-being of patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD) through dance. The five-week class series explores various dance styles including ballet, jazz, tap, modern and improvisation. Each class has a live pianist who accompanies the participants’ movements.
“Dance involves the practice of fluid movements, postures and body control, which may address the rigidity, slowness and postural instability associated with PD,” says Danny Bega, MD, movement disorders specialist at Northwestern Medicine. “Dance is proposed to offer cognitive and social benefits as well. The activity requires planning movements, following music and signals, and remembering choreography. The sense of community and enjoyment that comes from dancing and listening to music with other people may also address common PD-related problems such as depressed mood, fatigue and isolation.”
Dance may be effective in targeting motor symptoms of PD because it incorporates the stretching and strengthening of muscles, and it increases flexibility throughout the body, which may help maintain balance in people with PD.
Dance may also activate areas of the brain that normally show reduced activation in PD. PET studies have shown that blood flow to the cerebellum increases when dance steps are performed. One study found that primary motor regions and motor-planning regions, including pre-motor and supplementary motor areas, were activated while participants learned complex dance sequences. The study suggested that dance impacts motor and pre-motor networks in the brain. It has been hypothesized that dance may change underlying neural mechanisms in PD by improving functional connectivity in motor networks, improving motor performance, including gait and balance.
Dancing With Parkinson’s offers a supportive and inclusive environment where people can explore dance styles. Whether dancing in a standing or seated position, participants will engage in movements tailored to their abilities, fostering strength, flexibility and creativity. The program’s holistic approach focuses on promoting overall well-being, empowering participants to embrace the transformative power of dance.
Classes are led by Carly Liegel, community engagement program coordinator with The Joffrey Ballet. In 2019, Liegel completed training with Dance for PD®, a New York City-based program that pioneered dance classes for people with Parkinson’s disease. “My goal for the class is to emphasize artistry and connection” says Liegel. “I want to let everyone know that dance is an accessible art form for all. It’s a safe space to come how you are, express what you need, and connect with others for support, guidance and inspiration.”
Ginger Hall, a class participant who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease two years ago, emphasized the importance of remaining active in managing her symptoms. “I do believe that the magic bullet for Parkinson’s is exercise. Even though you can’t gain what you’ve lost, you can keep Parkinson’s at bay. Post-COVID, this program reminds me of how important community is, so, I’ll come back to every class because they’re good people, and it’s fun to be out with a group.”
Northwestern Medicine welcomes the opportunity to partner with you in caring for your patients.