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Behind the Curtain

Dancing By Chair: My Dance for PD Experience
By Susan McGreevy-Nichols
Posted on 1/31/2014 10:59 AM
This past weekend, I attended the UNITY business meeting in New York City. “UNITY is a non-profit coalition of dance education and associated organizations. It promotes cooperation and dialogue within the dance profession and speaks with a unified voice on dance education and dance-related fields."  This year, David Leventhal (pictured left), the program director and founding teacher of Dance for Parkinson’s Disease (PD), a program developed by the Mark Morris Dance Group, presented a sample PD class and after shared more about the program.

It was wonderful to have the opportunity of experiencing firsthand the benefits of their repertoire of movement. Much of the class is done by chair, dependent upon the mobility of the person. I learned that later in the class, if the PD patient is able to get up, the instructors will get them up. The students achieve musically-inspired, rhythmic movement they otherwise may not be able to perform in their daily lives. There is a great sense of fulfillment, as the students are learning stylized movement, many times based on Mark Morris repertory, while truly exploring their artistic self within their self-predicated limitations. Body awareness is key to the well-being of PD patients, and is very important, no matter your age or health status. Dance for PD is yet another example of the transformative power of dance. 

I was absolutely fascinated by the history, medical benefits, and international acclaim of this program. As David explained at the meeting, this amazing idea began in 2001, when Olie Westheimer, the Founder and Executive Director of the Brooklyn Parkinson Group (BPG), approached the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) with the proposal of offering a dance class to develop cognitive and movement strategies that would enhance the lives of Parkinson's patients. This one class evolved into an international movement and curriculum of classes that are now offered in more than 100 communities in nine countries. Prestigious PD medical centers also offer classes. Medical professionals and health organizations around the globe recommend the program as a viable therapy. The interest and growth of this program is staggering, and what strikes me the most is that Mark Morris Group has been very generous to share their successes with others by offering master classes, training resources, and a training certification for dance teachers, so that patients outside of NYC may also participate. I think it’s important for our NDEO members to take advantage of these resources and familiarize themselves with the work of Dance for PD, a true advancement in the field of dance education, medicine and neuroscience, and a shining example of innovation and results. 

I congratulate the Mark Morris Dance Group, one of our NDEO members, for their outstanding advancements! Please take a few minutes to check out their web site, and all of the resources they offer here. I have also included below two videos for your enjoyment. The first is a 3-minute video on 'Why Dance for PD,' and the other is a PBS NewsHour feature on the program, both courtesy of Mark Morris Group.


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