Launched in 2013 as a pilot project, Dancing Parkinson’s YYC provides dance classes to people with Parkinson disease, their spouses, friends and care partners. It is based on the simple belief that ‘dancing is good for us’. With live musical accompaniment and a focus on rhythm and musicality, body awareness, muscle development, coordination and socializing, Dancing Parkinson’s YYC brings together the style of Decidedly Jazz Danceworks with a Dance Education model used at the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The program is dedicated to enhancing people’s quality of life through the arts.
How did it start?
The project was launched in 2013 as a pilot project with the support of Dr. Bin Hu’s Ambulosona research program, and has continued yearly with great success. Decidedly Jazz Danceworks (DJD) and the University of Calgary have been the main collaborative partners with organizations such as the Rozsa Foundation, Parkinson Alberta, Calgary Parkinson’s Research Initiative (CaPRI), and the Hotchkiss Brain Institute providing financial support.
DJD was inspired by Professor Anne Flynn, who is no stranger to designing programs that benefit health; from 2001 – 2005 Flynn co-facilitated classes through the Tom Baker Cancer Centre’s program “Healing through the Creative Arts – Making Meaning of Cancer”, and in 2006 created a program for seniors living in the East Village. Flynn approached DJD with the idea of creating a dance program for people with Parkinson’s, and Vicki Adams Willis, DJD Founder in Residence, was quick to get involved. With Professor Flynn’s vision of research and Adams Willis’ engagement in teaching and training, the program has become a success.
The Calgary Dancing Parkinson’s program is a service program with a research component. With support from a national partnership grant on Arts and Social Change awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, researchers have conducted a qualitative and quantitative study to examine the impact of participating in a dance program. The class content includes:
- Body Awareness
- Personal Expression
- Rhythm and Musicality
- Motor Learning and muscle development
- Cognitive development
- Building a Community of Learners.
Why is this project important?
The impact of the class on the Parkinson’s community has been positive. Dance helps to ease rigidity, improve balance, enhance coordination and provide an opportunity for personal expression. The class also enhances overall well being by providing the opportunity to enjoy live music and social time with peers.
DJD’s Founder in Residence, Vicki Adams Willis has dedicated time towards building the Dancing Parkinson’s program, along with Professor Anne Flynn and Project Manager Kate Cunningham. We are very fortunate to also receive financial support from the Rozsa Foundation, as well as participating as a formal partner on the Arts and Social Change national partnership project. We hope that Calgary’s Dancing Parkinson program is helping to advance the role of dance in health research.
The participants have commented positively on their sense of community and personal accomplishments as they learn to dance. These are some excerpts from interviews conducted with class participants during the research:
“When you walk out of this class, you don’t really feel like you have Parkinson’s anymore.”
“I’m overwhelmed. I just think it’s wonderful what has been done for Parkinson’s participants. Because it really improves your life.”
“The mind body connections that are being created are life changing. The techniques that people are learning are activities that they can continue to work on at home. The future of people living with Parkinson’s is different because of this program.”
“It is my favourite thing to come to. It helps with my Parkinson’s a lot. I practice kinesphere exploration; the camaraderie is beautiful, thank you.”
“The Dance Program at DJD was definitely one of the highlights of my week. The dance classes helped raise my mood and I was able to participate in a safe environment and at a level I could manage. I felt I benefitted both physically and mentally, and always left humming a tune and smiling.”
Imagine creating a dance programme to support people living with Parkinson’s disease and at the end of the class, a participant says ‘when you walk out of this class, you don’t really feel like you have Parkinson’s anymore.’ Well that is what is being reported here in this very novel collaboration.
Just imagine the wider impact if health clubs and gyms around the world were to adopt this Canadian programme.