Discover Dance for Parkinson’s with Hamilton City Ballet

World Dance for Parkinson's Day - Hamilton City Ballet. Photo by Tom Omorean Media

As part of World Dance for Parkinson’s Day (held in April), we discovered the benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s. And while the World Dance for Parkinson’s Day has passed, we wanted to continue to shine a light on the great work in dance and Parkinson’s through research, classes, performances and more by a global network of artists and organizations.

We were privileged to hear first hand from dance student, Stan Tick, who has Parkinson’s talk about the benefits and improvements to his life that he’s experienced from taking dance for Parkinson’s classes with Hamilton City Ballet.

Jody White Van de Klippe, Program Director for Hamilton City Ballet’s Dance for Parkinson’s shares how World Dance for Parkinson’s Day started and the amazing ballet and dance companies and artists who are involved from around the world. 

You can listen to our podcast with Jody and Stan, here’s what we talked about:

Tell us all about the world dance for Parkinson’s day?

Jody: Dance for Parkinson’s Day is an opportunity to share what is happening in the world of dance for Parkinson’s globally. We have 23 participating artists and community dance studio and dance companies, showcasing their work within the dance for Parkinson’s. Within their showcase, there is an opportunity to share about the community initiatives, engagements, and collaborations.

How did World Dance for Parkinson’s day get started?

Jody: What initially inspired us was World Ballet Day, which is held in October. We looked at the World Ballet Day and said, ok could we create a similar event for Dance for Parkinson’s. And April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month, so we launched an event on the 11th of April. The event comes full circle on the 29th of April recognizing International Dance Day. So we are bringing the two together, recognizing Parkinson Awareness Month, the awareness day and the International Dance Day and creating the platform World Dance for Parkinson’s Day.

World Dance for Parkinson's Day - Hamilton City Ballet. Photo by Tom Omorean Media
World Dance for Parkinson’s Day – Hamilton City Ballet. Photo by Tom Omorean Media

Tell us about the benefit of dance to people with Parkinson’s?

Stan: I am excited about talking about that, there are a lot of possibilities. Parkinson’s is something that requires dancing, it requires movement, it requires the environment we are in and just doing things. We can do that to music, special light music which we have at Hamilton City Ballet with the flutist and violinist. It is wonderful. It is very, very genuine and it is moving. When I was diagnosed I had no idea how bad I was. My wife knew and my friends knew, and they got together and decided that I needed help.  

Stan, How have you developed with dance?

Stan: I started with one-two, one-two, one-two; I couldn’t get to three! But I did one-two and got pretty good at it. I take piano, but now I have difficulty playing it because of coordination. What was easy, became more difficult; but with the help of dance and the classes and the people in the class – all accomplished people – and then doing well, it is really wonderful.

How often are you taking dance classes with Hamilton City Ballet?

Stan: Two; every second week and we are going back to weekly, which is really good because we have a lot of people interested in doing it and the quality of the people doing it are incredible because of their backgrounds. There are medical backgrounds, there is a lot of different people that have accomplished a lot and they are terrific and we all dance poorly, but we dance! When you ask us not to think, which we are happy not to do, but putting one foot ahead of each other is the first chapter in dancing, and I suppose, the first chapter in anything.

Hamilton City Ballet sounds like a very supportive and enjoyable experience and a great place to go and move and also to be with others going through the same experience…

Stan: That’s for sure.

Jody: What is important is that we come together in the class, although it is a class for people with Parkinson’s disease, it is not about being a patient within a therapeutic environment. It is about being a student in a classroom environment, where we learn to dance and we learn about art. We are teaching classical ballet with classical music. We’re bringing to World Dance for Parkinson’s Day different global interpretations – we see tango, modern dance, and different ways to put dance for Parkinson’s on the stage.

What is your long-term vision for Dance for Parkinson’s?

Stan: Well I am planning on giving a recital next week! I am going to fill the theatre with 2,000 people and they are going to give me a sitting ovation!

Jody: We are seeing with our Dance for Parkinson’s colleagues that they are putting on performances. I think that is something that we can work towards, creating a performance as a lot of our students, their friends and family, want to see it. Dance has made a big impact on their lives and to be able to see that in a more tangible way in a performance, it is something we can consider.

The future with World Dance for Parkinson’s Day, we want to become bigger! We went from 16 participating programs last year to 23 this year. And also in putting independent innovators together, like the work with Dr Sara Houston and Danielle Teale, working not only in the dance studios but with researchers, innovators. I think there is a lot of room for growth within the individual program and with networking. Research is showing that repeatedly what works; what is happening in the future, what technology will bring. I think it is an exciting time to be part of this field.

World Dance for Parkinson's Day - Hamilton City Ballet. Photo by Tom Omorean Media
World Dance for Parkinson’s Day – Hamilton City Ballet. Photo by Tom Omorean Media

I love the idea of the performance and recital, the celebration, and coming together of the wider community of the family and friends, to be able to share in that experience and to hear how it is impacting on people’s physicality and emotional joy in life.

Jody: In World Dance for Parkinson’s Day people have an opportunity to watch the videos. Everyone is participating in filming class videos, interviewing the students in the faculty. It is incredible to see the impact that dance and music have on people. Every week in class is both inspiring and humbling.

Although not surprising, it is great that the scientific evidence shows the benefits of dance, which is inherent in us as human beings, and so it is great to see that science supports what we see and feel inside, that dance is great for everyone!

Jody: There is definitely research on both the qualitative and quantitative side showing qualitatively the social-emotional element – when people are diagnosed it can lead to social isolation, depression, and anxiety. Parkinson’s is more than the physical tremors that people associate with the disease, there is also the non-motor center. There is the social environment that you come to in the dance class, we can look at the improvement in weight, in balance, in coordination. The students say that now they are able to decorate their living room, or they can work in the kitchen and move with ease, or they’re able to pick up an object. It is incredible what happens with people and dance.

It sounds truly transformative…

Jody: Yes, definitely. Being part of it is an incredible experience and one of the moving parts of it is when students come in, some of them have a different walking assisting devices – walker or cane – I remember one time we were looking around making sure the place was clean and we realised “oh, Celeste left her walker behind”. It is incredible, she gained enough independence and confidence to be able to leave it and pick it up the next day. It is powerful to see students coming in the one way and walking out another.

Stan, did you had any reservations about starting dance classes?

Stan: No, I am thrilled about this because it improved everything for me in terms of my living, and other things. I will be away for a couple of months in summer and I am in class for pedaling for Parkinson’s and I do that twice a week in the winter and also there is boxing for Parkinson’s and it is just moving. What happens when you move – you move it or you lose it! The more you move the better you get.

My markers with my neurologist had improved tremendously, when I was first diagnosed I think my score was 128, which doesn’t mean much except the higher it is the worse you are, and the last time, 3 weeks ago it was 8! It is amazing and wonderful. It makes you want to do more because the results are spectacular!

Stan, you mentioned your wife and family were aware of how to bad your condition was, have they noticed your improvements since taking dance?

Stan: My wife’s first career was as a Physiotherapist and she treated people with Parkinson’s. She thought there was something wrong with me, and then another couple – the husband was a retired Neurologist – they thought there was something wrong and they all decided that I should have a diagnosis. I told them to be careful where they land because I didn’t want to have too much wrong with me! It turned out to be Parkinson’s, and then we thought how do we deal with it? Our neurologist was incredible and he put me in touch with a hospital resident movement disorder specialist and she got me involved and then we found dancing for Parkinson’s and pedal for Parkinson’s and boxing for Parkinson’s – and then we thought we would be able to deal with Parkinson’s and I was excited about doing it and I want to do more.

World Dance for Parkinson's Day - Hamilton City Ballet. Photo by Tom Omorean Media
World Dance for Parkinson’s Day – Hamilton City Ballet. Photo by Tom Omorean Media

Tell us about Dance for Parkinson’s at Hamilton City Ballet?

Jody: Hamilton City Ballet just launched their Spring season, and we’re starting weekly classes and we’re looking at the Tchaikovsky and The Sleeping Beauty. So when we do that, we plan the choreography, the music; it is telling the story of the ballet and engaging the imagination process, the storytelling process for students to think about, ok this is what is happening and creating an experience that there is context to the dance.

We were originally inspired by English National Ballet and other companies who are picking up in classes a repertoire of full-scale ballet. Generally speaking, it has been very popular; not all of the music played in class is based on that, but it does go into the Hamilton City Ballet spring production. It is The Sleeping Beauty this year, so students will have the opportunity to work on the performance.  

What advice would you give to other people with Parkinson’s who may think about trying dance?

Stan: I would say that the whole idea is to get you moving and keep you moving and do different things that will keep you moving –  play the piano because that is good for your hand dexterity, never mind how you play it, walk, wander, anything you can to keep you moving, because if you go to bed, you stay in bed, if you get out the bad you will do well. Get out and work!

Jody: The comments that come to me, see people describing the project as life-changing, remarkable, I see that completely. In the class with our students, speaking with them, it is incredibly enriching to be part of it and to watch it from a dance perspective, a dance academic performance perspective. So if you or someone you know has Parkinson’s, look at what dance can do on a social, physical and emotional level and be open to it.

Thank you to Stan for sharing his personal story with us!

Find more about Dance for Parkinson’s classes, research, workshops, and performances in your local area, visit danceforparkinsons.online

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