Stories of Impact

Grant in Action: Dancing to improve health

People with Parkinson’s disease benefit from donor generosity

Since July 2016, Eve Fischberg, a licensed occupational therapist, has been offering dance classes to people in the community who have Parkinson’s disease. A $2,400 grant from Memorial Medical Center Foundation is making a 12-week class offered four times throughout the year possible.

The class also facilitates social interaction, increases self-efficacy and elevates mood."

Eve is the executive director of The Joy of Movement, a not-for-profit organization with the mission to enhance health and quality of life for older adults living with Parkinson’s disease and related disorders by providing group dance programs.

“Each adapted dance class is planned and executed to use music, movement and group dynamics to address the motor challenges such as stiffness, balance deficits, problems with walking and functional movement and coordination deficits as well as postural and respiratory difficulties common for people with Parkinson’s,” Eve said. “The class also facilitates social interaction, increases self-efficacy and elevates mood. Depression, anxiety and social isolation can be significant challenges, both for people with Parkinson’s disease and for their care partners.”

The Joy of Movement offers three classes each week and currently more than 40 people participate. There are 18 volunteers from the community who assist dancers who attend on their own. The Tuesday class is funded by the Foundation grant.

There is no charge to participate in the class.

“We believe that it is important to remove as many barriers as possible to participate, including financial barriers,” Eve said.

Dance class isn’t just about the physical benefits of improved balance, flexibility and coordination. Participants regularly mention the benefit of social belonging, fun and laughter in their quarterly survey.

Eve is appreciative for the grant, which was made possible by donations from community members and proceeds from Memorial’s Festival of Trees, because she sees firsthand how the class impacts the dancers.

“Dancing together breaks the isolation that is too often a part of living with Parkinson’s disease, both for the person with Parkinson’s and for the care partner. Dancing instills confidence, as well as elevates mood. Dance connects the mind to the body, and helps people with Parkinson’s gain greater flexibility, balance and functional movement.”

Breaking down The Joy of Movement class

The class begins in a seated position to focus on posture and respiration. “We use laughter exercises to strengthen respiratory effort and control, as well as to elevate mood,” Eve said.

Then while continuing to sit, the dancers complete choreographed warm-up activities that incorporates dance and chair yoga moves while music is played.

The dancers then learn and practice new dance moves and review what was learned during previous classes. “We learn a seated dance that relates to the theme of the quarter. For example, for our tap class in early September, we learned a seated dance using tap moves to "King of the Road," using PVC pipe as props,” Eve said.

Next it is time to stand at the barre, which for this group is the backs of chairs, and do a series of dance exercises, often to themed music. One September class was based on a railroad theme.

“We practice jazz isolations to loosen up our core muscles and work on isolated movements. We perform a series of pliés, relevés and port de bras to strengthen our lower body and increase ability to control and reverse movements, as well as to improve ability to change positions,” Eve said.

After that the dancers practice the moves they earlier learned while sitting down. Music is played the entire time and frequently it is slowed using an app to make it easier on the dancers.

After a water break the participants perform a dance, usually a group improvisation, focusing on the use of the upper body. “Having the members of the class co-choreograph and improvise to music is a satisfying challenge for them,” Eve said.” It also boosts their confidence, elevates mood and strengthens social bonds in the group.”

The class starts to wrap up with a choreographed dance which has participants moving across the floor in circle formation and using the moves first learned from a seated position. Some dancers choose to sit in chairs in the middle of the circle to conserve energy or for safety.

Before ending class, the group holds hands for the circle of gratitude. “Starting with the instructor, each dancer in turn thanks the person on their right, passing the gratitude around the circle,” Eve said. “We all take a bow and give ourselves a round of applause.”

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