People with Parkinson’s join Michigan dance class
Grand Haven — When a person sets foot in a Dancing for Parkinson’s class, they are not a patient.
They are not there for therapy or to see a doctor. They are just there to dance.
Coordinator Jan White and her team made up of accompanist Karen Fredericksen, head teacher Cathy Gamby and assistant head teacher MiMi Dunne recently held its first Dancing for Parkinson’s class.
Each class gets the dancers moving. The class starts with stretching and Fredericksen plays music with a slow tempo.
As the pace picks up, so does the music. Fredericksen plays upbeat tunes such as “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles. Eventually, the dancers move to a ballet barre.
Parkinson’s disease impacts the central nervous system and can cause patients to have difficulty with movement. People with Parkinson’s disease can also experience tremors and stiffness in their limbs.
Getting the program off the ground was a long time coming for White, 63. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s seven years ago.
The idea to start a class close to home came after she attended one at the flagship Dance for PD studio in Brooklyn.
“It was just an amazing experience and I thought, ‘I’ve got to keep doing this,’” White said.
When she got back from the trip, she started attending similar sessions in Grand Rapids but wanted to bring it to the Tri-Cities area.
White applied for, and received, a $5,000 grant from the Parkinson’s Association of West Michigan, which helped pay for the team to attend training at the studio in Brooklyn. In addition to the training, the trip seemed to bring the team closer.
“It helped bond us … it would have been a very different experience if we went to the workshop on our own and then tried to pull this together,” Gamby said.
Though the team received training, some of the exercises are based off Gamby’s and Dunne’s own knowledge.
“This is a learning process, we’re on the curve,” Dunne said. “We’re just trying to take what we learned from New York and make it smooth.”
Gamby has been a dancer and instructor for more than 30 years. Dunne has been a dancer and instructor for about 20 years. They both teach classes geared toward older adults.
Dunne said seeing the dancers react and connect to the dance moves is a rewarding feeling.
For Elaine Hicks, a Spring Lake resident, the feeling of camaraderie between dancers is her favorite part of attending classes.
“It’s not just about the dance but our life and what we have in common with Parkinson’s,” Hicks said.
Not everyone in the class has Parkinson’s, and White said she would like more people who do not have the disease to join in. Family members, friends and caregivers are all welcome to attend classes.
Each free class is a donation of the team members’ time. However, White said she would like to find a way to fund their class so the team can be paid.
“They all do this because they want me to stay better and stronger and they’re doing this for the other people,” she said. “It’s such a gift that (they) give to me.”
White said somehow combining music with movement provides participants with the ability to overcome the lack of dopamine people with Parkinson’s have in their brain.
“It’s just so fun and you feel so empowered,” White said.
Dancing for Parkinson’s classes are Wednesdays from 1:30-2:30 p.m. at Spotlight Dance Academy, 1445 Columbus Ave. in Grand Haven.