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Local Art Organizations Bring Dance Classes to Patients With Parkinson’s Disease

This June, the Rye Arts Center (RAC) and Steffi Nossen Dance Foundation (SNDF) each offer specialized dance classes in a creative group setting for individuals with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). The programs are both based on The Mark Morris Dance Company’s internationally acclaimed Dance for PD program and are led by professionally-trained dancers whose knowledge about movement benefits its participants. PD causes the death of nerve cells in the brain that release dopamine, a chemical which facilitates movement in the body. Although dance is not a cure for the disease, according to the Dance for PD program’s resources, it does help patients to build a stronger connection to movement and also instills confidence.

RAC, which launched its Dance for Parkinson’s program in 2011, offers free classes on Wednesdays and Fridays year-round (except August). Noah Opitz, Director of Development at RAC, has noticed that the classes create a sense of community for the participants. He explains: “Depression is common among PD patients, and programs like these provide them with a support group.”

SNDF’s Parkinson’s Dance program takes place every Monday year-round (this session ends of June 18 and will resume on August 21). According to Judith Ross, Community Relations Director at SNDF, the classes serve a special need in the community and also fulfill SNDF’s mission to bring dance to everyone. Additional special needs classes include “Moving Wheels and Heels Dance Intensive,” a one-week dance experience for students with and without disabilities (June 19-24).

Both PD programs integrate movement from modern, ballet, tap, folk and choreographic repertory and include an array of music. Megan Williams, Choreographer and Dance Instructor at RAC, explains that the art of dancing inspires a transformation in participants and frees them from their daily routine: “When patients step into the dance room, they are no longer a person with Parkinson’s. They become beginner dancers on a fun artistic pursuit.” Both classes welcome walk-ins. For more info, visit: ryeartscenter.org and steffinossen.org.

A version of this article first appeared in the June 2017 issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews

Photo caption: Dance for Parkinson’s class at Rye Arts Center (photo courtesy of Rye Arts Center)