When people with Parkinson’s disease step into the dance studio on the third floor of the Multicultural Arts Center, they forget all about the struggles of dealing with the disorder; instead they focus on their “plie” and “passe.”
Dance for Parkinson’s is a class put on by the Merced Dance Academy and is designed to address Parkinson’s-specific concerns such as balance, coordination and flexibility through dance movements.
The class was created last September by dance instructors Jane Vann-Bryan and Carol Hart. The idea, Vann-Bryan said, came after they watched a special on PBS about the Dance for PD program developed by the Mark Morris Dance Group in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I thought it was a fantastic idea,” Vann-Bryan said. “My husband is a neurologist, and so that background helps me understand how dance can help people with Parkinson’s.”
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In the one-hour class, instructors integrate movements from modern and theater dance, ballet and folk dance. Students, anywhere in their 60s up to 90 years old, learn new steps that they get to practice either standing or sitting, whichever they find more comfortable.
Hart said she definitely sees the difference the dance class has on her students.
“This class is a mood elevator,” she said. “Not only for them, but for us, too. They leave with a smile on their face, and that makes us happy.”
Vann-Bryan and Hart added it’s important the classes are taught by trained dance instructors, as they are used to integrating emotion and imagination into their dance routines.
“This isn’t just an exercise class,” Vann-Bryan said. “When you’re in here, you’re not a patient, you’re a dancer.”
Currently, the class receives the help of 14-year-old Amity Beardsley, who has been a modern dance student at the Merced Dance Academy for eight years.
Amity, who aspires to be a dance instructor, said the class gives her an opportunity to not only give back to the community but to also practice her teaching skills.
“I love this class,” she said. “I’m home-schooled but I love to socialize, so by coming here I get to meet so many sweet people.”
Merced resident Gloria Coronas, whose husband, John Coronas, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease last June, said the class is good exercise for both of them. “My husband and I used to dance all the time, so to be able to do this again is nice,” she said.
Similarly, Sandy Hutchinson, who accompanies her husband, Otis Hutchinson, to the class, said it gives her husband something to look forward to every week.
“I like bringing my husband because I know he enjoys it,” Sandy Hutchinson said. “Doing this really puts a smile on his face, and I think coming out to dance is the highlight of his week.”
The class varies in size; anywhere from four to eight students is the norm, Vann-Bryan said. She hopes the class will grow by fall.
“We’d love to have more people join us,” she said. “I think sometimes people are thrown off the by the term ‘dance class,’ but the steps are very simple and easy to follow. The important thing is just to move and have some fun.”
Vann-Bryan said the class is not only for people with Parkinson’s disease but for anyone with restricted movement.
Three classes are left before Dance for Parkinson’s takes a break during the summer. Classes will resume in September.