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Dance Heals

(photo courtesy of Rye Arts Center)
(photo courtesy of Rye Arts Center)

There are innumerable benefits that come along with artistic engagement and those benefits are not limited to the professional artists among us. It has been well documented that “engagement with creative activities has the potential to contribute toward reducing stress and depression and can serve as a vehicle for alleviating the burden of chronic disease.” In 2001, these findings and other research helped to inspire a collaboration between the Brooklyn Parkinson Group and the Mark Morris Dance Group to create Dance for PD.

Over the last 18 years, Dance for PD has come to be recognized for pioneering a unique approach to helping Parkinson’s patients. With operations that provide specialized dance classes in locations around New York City and through affiliates in more than 250 communities in 25 countries around the world, it is easy to see that Dance for PD has created quite a successful program. Westchester is one of those communities and is home to organizations like the Rye Arts Center (RAC) and the Steffi Nossen School of Dance, which provide Parkinson’s Dance classes for free!

The RAC has been offering its Dance for Parkinson’s program, twice a week for almost eight years. The multi-talented Megan Williams, who leads the classes, is not only a choreographer, teacher and ballet master, she is also a member of the Dance for PD flagship teaching team. Williams and the RAC team believe that their classes help participants to feel “empowered to take charge of their own well-being,” more like dancers then patients.

One of the reasons the Dance for Parkinson’s program has had so much success is based around the repeated interest of participants. Parkinson’s can be a debilitating illness, so by providing a fun and accessible form of activity that participants enjoy, these programs often yield more consistent attendance than a more traditional type of physical strength training.

Wendi Morsberger, a licensed physical therapist and instructor at Steffi Nossen, is also trained in the Dance for PD method. Participants in her classes get to experience the delights of dance while learning creative ways of handling physical and emotional obstacles. “I see people’s imaginations get fired up,” explains Morsberger, “and when they commit to coming frequently, there are often noticeable improvements in their balance, fine motor skills and physical confidence moving through the world.”

This week and the entire month of April are dedicated to raising awareness of Parkinson’s disease. Programs like those at the Rye Arts Center and the Steffi Nossen School of Dance raise awareness and visibility while providing transformative arts experiences for people living with Parkinson’s disease.

For information on how to participate in classes or learn more about the programs, visit: ryeartscenter.org/dance-for-park and steffinossen.org/the-school/adaptive-dance.

William Bermingham works in the Communications Department at ArtsWestchester. He is a graduate of Purchase College where he studied Arts Management.

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