IN A BALLET rehearsal room near the Royal Albert Hall about 50 people are seated in a circle. A young lithe girl takes centre stage and performs a simple stretch, waving her arms from side to side in an elegant gesture familiar to ballet lovers.
The assembled company performs the same movement with varying degrees of success. She performs another position and puts it together with the first. We all follow suit. It feels like dancing.
In fact it is an exercise based on ballet movement that stretches muscles and improves co-ordination and stability. It is esecially important to the participants as they all suffer from Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s is a neurological condition characterised by a lack of muscular control and an almost continuous tremor in the lips, hands and limbs.
It worsens as it progresses and although it can be controlled partially through drugs and exercise there is no cure.
At best it is a slightly embarrassing physical disability that brings a loss of physical confidence to the sufferer. At worst it is severely debilitating resulting in a life of uncoordinated movement and social alienation.
Parkinson’s sufferers risk losing a lot more than muscular coordination. Afraid of leaving their homes because of anxieties about falling over, dropping things or stares from unsympathetic strangers means many become reclusive and housebound resulting in a loss of social contact that can have a devastating psychological impact. At least two people in the class are in wheelchairs and many have walking sticks. Most are with companions or carers.
Dance For Parkinson’s scheme, initiated by English National Ballet (ENB) in conjunction with the dance department of South-west London’s Roehampton University, has been running for just over a year. Now with the help of a recent grant of £97,000 from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation they have set in motion a three-year programme of classes and research which it is hoped will prove beneficial to many of the 150,000 people in the UK who suffer from the condition.
“It is marvellous,” says Mary Longmead, 79, who is attending her first class. “The benefits are certainly physical but also psychological.” Click here to read the rest of the article.