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How a Fort Greene Class is Using Dance to Alleviate Parkinson’s Disease

Dance for PD allows Brooklynites living with Parkinson’s to connect not only with friends, but with their own bodies.
Mark Morris Dance Group studio. Photo: Katey St. John for BK Reader.

Within the mirrored walls of the Mark Morris Dance Group studio in Fort Greene, Brooklynites living with Parkinson’s disease (PD) gather to move their bodies, shed their illness-based identities and lean on their community.

The initiative is called Dance For PD.

“It’s a safe space, but it’s also an artistic space,” said Julie Worden, an instructor for Dance for PD.

Using Morris’ choreography, the class formulates different routines that encourage dancers to improvise and make the movements their own. Many of these movements are based on real tasks like a sweeping bow to pick up an imagined flower from the ground.

“They're using the repertory as a starting point, but then they're building on their own story, their own physical expression,” said David Leventhal, Dance for PD’s program director and first dance instructor.

Participants move to the sound of live piano music played by Yukiko Konishi during the class that BK Reader visited. The songs crescendo and wane with the energy of the dancers' movements.

Parkinson’s disease causes muscles to struggle to follow commands from the brain and causes limbs to become stiff. Aside from medication, exercise and movement provide another effective way to alleviate the creeping symptoms of the disease. Dance proves an especially effective form of exercise, since it engages both the brain and the body, forcing these estranged parts to work together again.

On top of the physical benefits, the class creates a nurturing space for people with PD to socialize and bond over their shared experiences.

“Makes me feel more connected,” said Robert, one of the dance participants. “When we come to dance, we're among our friends.”

Since its inception in 2001, Dance for PD has expanded into New York's five boroughs, across more than 300 communities and to 28 countries. Between different parts of the world, the imprint of community becomes visible through the dances and styles of the class.  

“Each location starts to create its own culture,” Leventhal said. “The version that you get in Brooklyn is unique to Brooklyn."


Katey St. John

About the Author: Katey St. John

Katey St John is a journalist, documentary filmmaker, activist, and baker whose passions lie where food and sustainability intersect.
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