My good friend Gino d’Achille , the artist and well-respected illustrator of the Flashman , John Carter of Mars and a myriad of other titles, has had Parkinson’s for about 12 years. He still draws and paints magnificently, but his life involves many quality compromises, even though he is lovingly cared for by his partner, the portrait painter, Mim Hain.
For a few months, Gino has participated in “Dance for Parkinson’s” at the English National Ballet, as his amusing and self-deprecating sketch attests.
The ENB offers people with Parkinson’s and their carers “an artistic, engaging dance activity. Saturday dance sessions offer an insight into the way a production is put together with the Company's dancers and musicians”.
The group of 40 or so, started with The Nutcracker and have now moved on the rather more adult – and dissonant – Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.
Most of the dance exercises are conducted with people seated, although some require them to stand up, using the back of a chair for support. There is a lot of leaning and stretching out forwards and arms raised up. Gino says he sometimes finds it difficult and isn’t always able to complete the session, but that he can feel himself uncurling as the exercises progress. He notes that really he could easily do the exercises every morning to help him – but if he’s anything like most of us, having the discipline to do this is quite another matter!
He says that the sessions are fantastic, but despite looking forward to them, his condition means that he has to really force himself to get going and out of the house; and that when it is over he is absolutely exhausted physically. But crucially, the results keep bringing him back – he says that mentally and spiritually, he always feels re-invigorated and energized and that the effects last for a while.
When we discussed the classes, I was interested that they hadn’t exactly chosen foot-tapping, get-up-and-move music (which is perhaps surprising, given that the ENB is currently performing Strictly Gershwin at the Bristol Hippodrome).
He agreed, but he also attends another dance exercise class elsewhere locally, where the rhythms that they use are much more step-out-and-dance-able – music from Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films. I get the impression that this might be rather more to his dance, or musical taste.
The Dance for Parkinson’s programme is being extended over the next three years, creating more regular dance activities for people with Parkinson’s. Partners include Pavilion Dance in Bournemouth: Dance South West; Merseyside Dance Initiative in Liverpool; and South East Dance Studios: South East Dance.
English National Ballet commissioned Dr. Sara Houston and Ashley McGill , University of Roehampton, to research the benefits of Dance for Parkinson’s and Dr Houston was recently awarded the Bupa “Vitality for Life Prize“ for her research.
And here is one of Gino's Flashman covers – with but the merest hint of David Cameron about him...