Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dance for Parkinson's

A few weeks ago, we ran into a woman I know at a jazz gig. She has problems with her health and especially with balance and movement. She mentioned that friends had recommended to her a special program of workshop/classes at the university that were supposed to help with these problems. She hadn't gotten the details, but she passed on what she knew in case David, my husband, was interested because the program was called Dance for Parkinson's.
So I googled and found out the information. Here's a description from their website:

Dance for PD® offers dance classes for people with Parkinson’s disease in Brooklyn, New York and, through our network of partners and associates, in more than 40 other communities around the world.  In Dance for PD® classes, participants are empowered to explore movement and music in ways that are refreshing, enjoyable, stimulating and creative. An on-going collaboration between the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group—a chapter of the National Parkinson Foundation—the Dance for PD® program also provides teacher training and nurtures relationships among other organizations so that classes based on our model are widely available.

It turned out that several classes had already taken place last fall and winter but that there were a few more this spring. David decided that he wanted to try it, so we got up early Friday morning and went over to Krannert Performing Arts Center. The class was held in the dress rehearsal room, so we had a long (I was glad I brought my walker. The damp weather is really hard on my back and leg problems these days) but rather interesting trek down the corridors of the not-so-public part of the center, passing by big props for plays, rooms where orchestral rehearsals were going on, and so forth.
The dress rehearsal room is a huge space with mirrors all along one side and a sturdy wooden rail (the "bar" in ballet, I suppose) against the wall. We arrived late (as usual, sigh) and saw a big circle of chairs. People sitting in the circle included Parkinson's patients, their friends or spouses, and some students from the dance department. In the center were three chairs for the group leaders. To  start off, one of the instructors of the program who is on the dance faculty here demonstrated some seated warm-up movements. A grand piano and a lovely lady named Beverly provided musical accompaniment.

The program developed by the Mark Morris Dance Group was being offered as a cooperative effort by the dance department, a Carle clinic Parkinson's group, and the MMDG. We were especially fortunate to come to this particular session because it was also attended by three members of the MMDG who were in town for a special reason (to be revealed later in this blog post!). So after the warm-up, each of the three dancers led the group in a series of interesting (and sometimes pretty difficult!) movements.

The movements all involved fairly intricate sequences of movements of all different parts of the body (some seated, some standing holding onto a chair, some walking) with live music. The people in the group were at different stages in terms of which movements they could do most successfully; some of them were a challenge for me with arthritis as well as for those with Parkinson's. But there was a wonderful atmosphere of acceptance; everyone was encouraged to do what worked for him or her. 

At one point, we were doing standing movements that my husband couldn't manage and he had sat down. David Leventhal, a dancer who is devoting all his time right now to directing the PD education program in 14 states, came over and sat down across from my husband and helped him do a seated equivalent of some of the moves.
Some of the activities were lyrical, some humorous, many imaginative. We saw a few people we knew from the community. Everyone seemed to be making an effort, enjoying the music and companionship, and smiling and laughing. The dancers themselves were marvelous to watch and very kind and patient with all of us. It was a really great experience.

To my surprise, at the end they said we shouldn't forget to pick up the letter for the free tickets. I didn't know anything about it. It turns out that the reason the dancers were at this particular session was because the Mark Morris Dance Group was giving a performance Friday night at Tryon Festival Theater in Krannert Center. So we had two free tickets! (The regular price for senior citizen tickets for the performance would have been $33 per person.)

So we went home and rested and then went back to Krannert in the evening and had dinner there at the Intermezzo Cafe with a friend and then went to the concert. We had seats in the front row, just left of the stage, and could see everything on stage very well, and we were also right next to the area with the two pianos, three violins, and the cello. 

We realized soon that many of the movements that were used in the class were taken from the marvelous choreography of the evening's performance of the Mozart dances. And of course it was a thrill to see some of the dancers in the troupe as people we had as leaders in the morning's activities! The performance itself was exceptionally delightful. The dancing is modern (barefoot and no tights or tutus) and bold. Sometimes the troupe's movements and gestures are synchronized, but sometimes they are all moving differently in a sort of living dynamic sculpture. The skill of the dancers, the incredible musical performance, and the visual delight of the costumes were all thrilling! What a terrific treat!

We plan to attend the other sessions of the Dance for Parkinson's and thank all involved in the efforts that went into developing the program

1 comment:

  1. Susan, this was an enjoyable post. Fascinating!