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Dance Classes Keep People with Parkinson's Moving

Saturday September 14, 2013

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre hosts dance classes for those with Parkinson's
Tony LaRussa

Trib Total Media - Pittsburgh Tribune - Sue Neff had no aspirations of fine tuning her dance skills when she signed up for a series of classes that began on Saturday at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in the Strip District.

All she was hoping for was the chance to add to the repertoire of exercises that help keep symptoms of Parkinson's disease at bay. She began suffering from Parkinson's six years ago.

“I've done the rehab programs and exercise and swim regularly,” said Neff, 74, of Sewickley. “I think the dance movements and techniques are another good way for me to keep my body moving.”

Neff was among a small group of Parkinson's patients and volunteers who kicked off a new program — Dance for Parkinson's Pittsburgh — sponsored by the Ballet Theatre and the National Parkinson Foundation Western Pennsylvania that is designed to integrate ballet, modern dance and other techniques to help participants experience the mind-body benefits of dance.

“Exercise is essential in helping to manage Parkinson's disease,” said Barbara Farrell, executive director for National Parkinson Foundation Western Pennsylvania. “Dance, in particular this model for dance, provides additional benefits not found in many other types of exercise. These classes are appropriate for all people with Parkinson's disease regardless of ability or mobility.”

No previous dance experience is required to participate in the class.

During the hour-long program, which will meet weekly through the end of November, dance instructors Jamie Murphy and Michelle Ramos led the coed class in activities, including deep breathing and relaxation exercises, warm up and limbering techniques used by dancers and actual dance routines that have been modified for the physical limitations many Parkinson's patients experience.

Each series of steps was put together into a routine accompanied by music provided by Lisa Wimer, the pianist for the Ballet Theatre's school, who played selections from the musicals “Jekyll and Hyde” and “Phantom,” as well classics such as “Moonglow” and “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.”

An estimated 1 million people in the United States have Parkinson's Disease, with an additional 50,000 to 60,000 new cases diagnosed each year, according to the National Parkinson Foundation.

Parkinson's disease is a disorder of the motor system that causes symptoms such as trembling in the hands, arms, legs and face; stiffness of the limbs and trunk and impaired balance and coordination, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

“This was a wonderful experience,” said Christine Khanna, 62, of Squirrel Hill, who has been battling Parkinson's for 17 years. “I know that I have to keep my body moving, and this is a great way to do it.”

LaRussa, T. (14 Sep. 2013). Trib Total Media. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre hosts dance classes for those with Parkinson's. www.triblive.com

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