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Radical Steps- Civilizing Parkinson's Disease through Dance

Posted Sep 24 2012 12:00am
I do not have happy feet. My feet can be downright surly. Uncooperative. Intransigent. At times they refuse to do the simplest things asked of them.  So I took them dancing.

You're thinking "Pete, as the personification, the very incarnation of raw Alaskan woodsplittin', mountain bikin', frigid temperature toleratin' toughness, what in the world are you doing bellying up to the ballet bar for plie practice?"

Fair question. The answer? If I want to maintain my wood splittin', mountain bikin' etc. I need to control the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease as well as possible, as long as I can. Dealing effectively with PD means keeping up your underlying fitness. Dance is an effective way that this can be done. So says the National Institute of Health:

"Dance may address each of the key areas that have been identified as being important for an exercise program designed for individuals with PD. First, dance is an activity performed to music. The music may serve as an external cue to facilitate movement, thus addressing the first recommended component which is the use of external cues. Dance also involves the teaching of specific movement strategies, which is the second recommended component of a PD-specific exercise program. For example, in Argentine tango participants can be taught a very specific strategy for walking backward. They are taught to keep the trunk over the supporting foot while reaching backward with the other foot, keeping the toe of that rear foot in contact with the floor as it slides back and shifting weight backward over the rear foot only after it is firmly planted. Dance also addresses the third recommended component, balance exercises. Throughout dancing, particularly with a partner, one must control balance dynamically and respond to perturbations within the environment (e.g. being bumped by another couple). In fact, people who have danced habitually over their lives are known to have better balance and less variable gait than non-dancers. Additionally, dance-based balance training has been shown to be successful in improving balance in elderly individuals."
 
We are fortunate in Anchorage to have an instructor specially trained by the Mark Morris Dance Program for Parkinson's, Carolyn Lassiter. I went to one of Carolyn's classes (Offered Tuesdays at the Alaska Dance Theater building, 550 E 33rd Ave in Anchorage, from one until two in the afternoon.) It's free, and to get you in the mood to move, there is live piano music. Class started gently with seated exercises then progressed to slightly more advanced moves while we stood at the bar in case we needed it for balance. As we went through the routines, I felt my body warming up. The pleasure of  moving in rhythm to the music began to take hold. And there was the companionship of the other people who had to work as I did against the limitations imposed by PD. What's not to like about this?

I'll be back to Carol's class. The stakes here are high. The better we maintain our ability to walk, to balance, and to flex our bodies, the less chance we will suffer falls, make trips to the hospital, and run the risks that this implies. Furthermore the closer we can approximate our old "normal" lives, the more we will be able to endure the weight of Parkinson's Disease. And the longer we can keep ourselves going, the more chance we will have to benefit from any new developments in Parkinson's care.

Here is a chance to catch Parkinson's off guard. Our natural tendency is to want to fight Parkinson's Disease. But what if we can charm it with a dance?

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