December 4, 2013 6:10 pm
Updated: December 5, 2013 8:28 pm

Canada’s National Ballet school dancing with parkinson’s project

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TORONTO- As the saying goes, “Dance like no one is watching.” That’s exactly what’s happening here at Canada’s National Ballet School.

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“Dancing with Parkinson’s is a program that we’ve started to bring dance to people with Parkinson’s disease,” said Rachel Bar, leading researcher on Dancing with Parkinson’s Project. “Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disease that affects a region of the brain that’s associated with movement, as well as cognitive functioning, it begins to degenerate.”

This free 12-week dance program is connected to a study being done by researchers at York and Ryerson University to study the physical and neuropsychological effects of dance on people with Parkinson’s disease.

“I’ve had a few illnesses over the past few years and this is a really nasty bit of work and I just got really angry. They don’t have a lot of information on what causes Parkinson’s or really how to cure it or deal with it, so it’s my way of fighting back,” said David Dennison,  a participant in the program.

What’s unique about the program is that participants will undergo a series of brain imaging scans to help researchers understand how dance affects changes in brain activity and structure.

Bar said dance can alleviate some of the symptoms of the disease.

“There’s already been several studies that have come out that have measured physical markers of improvement and alleviate some of the symptoms. So things like balance and gait and some of the disfluency of movement does improve when people with Parkinson’s are dancing.” said Bar. “What we don’t yet know are why this is happening and how this is happening in the brain and that’s what we’re hoping to answer with our study.”

“The best thing about it is that we don’t teach any differently. The same way we work with young students is the exact same kind of dancing and activity that we’re doing with these lovely participants,” said Ashleigh Powell, artistic faculty at Canada’s National Ballet School. “It’s about accessing your physicality and about accessing your emotions and about sharing that in a space with people who are really supportive and wonderful.”

Dennison said he feels free when he dances. “It’s a real release for the frustration and anger that you feel along with actually taking part and doing something positive and effective, you can have some fun with it.”

“We’re not done collecting our data yet, but anecdotally I can tell you our participants are enjoying the program, which is very, very important.”

Term two of Dancing with Parkinson’s commences on January 14, 2014.

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