Parkinson's patients benefit from dancing

March 21, 2008 9:50:03 PM PDT
There is a new therapy that is promising both physical and emotional benefits for people living with Parkinson's disease.

The music from West Side Story makes anybody want to move. Friday morning at the Danspace Studio in Oakland, an unlikely group of dancers moved across the floor. These "Jets and Sharks" have Parkinson's disease. The progressive neurological disorder causes tremors, rigidity, a slowing of movement, and difficulty with balance. The best way to fight it, doctors say, is to keep moving.

Folks formed PD Active, and they've found dance delivers.

"This is a transporting exercise. When I come here, I don't have Parkinson's," says patient Joel Marsh.

The class is open to caregivers and friends. Professional dancer David Leventhal helped choreograph the idea of bringing dance to Bay Area Parkinson's patients. Leventhal is a company member of the Mark Morris Dance Group in New York and teaches people with PD in Brooklyn.

"People with Parkinson's and dancers really have the same challenge and that challenge is about finding a consciousness in movement. I think that's one of the reasons why dance, in particular, is so valuable for them because it's a road map for how to move not only that, it's a fun raod map," says Leventhal.

UCSF neurologist Dr. Alec Glass says studies suggest dance versus ordinary exercise, helps PD patients regain balance and fight depression, sometimes better than medication.

"The community formed by dancing, the music, and sort of being together, and there is even a little bit of evidence that suggests at least that those patients are happier and it may help in treating depression," says Dr. Glass.

"The tendency with Parkinson's is just to go home and watch TV all day. So it helps you get out and do something," says patient Lee J. Shapiro.

PD Active is trying to secure enough funding to offer these classes on a regular basis. With more trained teachers and enough committed space, they hope to begin offering classes by this summer.