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Parkinson’s Patients Find Strength, Joy In Dance Class

Doug Schepman, 7NEWS Reporter www.thedenverchannel.com

Exercise Can Slow Progression Of Disease

DENVER — At noon on Mondays, a rehearsal studio at Colorado Ballet becomes a place of healing for Parkinson’s disease patients and caregivers.
“We just want them to come to this class to express themselves and explore some art,” said Brandon “Private” Freeman, a volunteer instructor.

The weekly dance class, called “Rhythm and Grace,” is a partnership between the Parkinson Association of the Rockies and Colorado Ballet. Its purpose is not to teach students to pirouette or glissade, but instead, encourages participants to stretch and exercise. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that affects movement.

“So much of moving with Parkinson’s disease is work. Walking is work,” said Terri Reinhart, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease five years ago. “Participating in the dance I’ve found that I can find that gracefulness in movement again and it can carry over into the rest of my week.”

According to the National Parkinson Foundation, exercise can improve gait, balance, tremor, flexibility, grip strength and motor coordination. It may also slow progression of the disease.

While physical or occupational therapy is often prescribed for people with PD, “Rhythm and Grace” is purposely designed not to feel like a therapy. Instead, the focus is moving for enjoyment.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” said Bob Jones, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 15 months ago. “I exercise a lot. I’m probably in better shape than I was before I was diagnosed.”

During the class, participants mimic the sweeping, elongated arm and leg movements modeled by instructors, while seated or standing.

“Yes, it’s therapeutic for them. It’s addressing their issues, but part of what we do is not let them think about it,” Freeman said. “We don’t even want to use clinical terms. We don’t want to trigger any kind of response that they have from their regular physical therapist.”

For Reinhart, “Rhythm and Grace” is an opportunity to escape the reality of Parkinsons disease, and counteract its devastating affects in a fun way.

“If I treat this thing as an enemy, I’m going to be fighting and it’s going to be exhausting, and it’s not a battle I would win,” Reinhart said.
“We know that people who are positive and feel good about themselves and are less depressed, actually are healthier overall, even when they are living with a chronic disease,” said Cheryl Siefert, executive director of the Parkinson Association of the Rockies.

The Parkinson Association of the Rockies began offering the dance classes eight months ago. The program is based on a national model called “Dance For Parkinson’s Disease,” which was developed in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2001. Classes are offered in Denver, Broomfield and Longmont.

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