This month the Mark Morris Dance Group returns to Sydney and with them they bring their phenomenal program, Dance for Parkinson’s. Since beginning as a collaborative program between the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group in New York, Dance for Parkinson’s classes were first offered in 2001 and since then have reached 100 communities all over the world.
The program has seen great success since beginning in Australia as an interactive workshop at the National Parkinson’s Conference in Brisbane in 2012 which provided the program incredible exposure. The first Australian teacher training workshops were offered the following year in Sydney and Queensland. Now the program has successfully developed ongoing programs in Brisbane, Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne with pilot classes in Adelaide, Perth and regional New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.
Dance For Parkinson’s returns to Sydney and is offering one free public class and also a 2-day Teacher Training Workshop this month coinciding with the Mark Morris Dance Group’s performance season at the Sydney Opera House.
“Yes! It is very exciting to be holding the Dance for PD® Teacher Training at the Sydney Opera House on June 6 and 7,” says Erica Rose Jeffrey, Programme Coordinator for Dance for Parkinson’s Australia. “Many of the beautiful aspects of the Dance for PD® program stem from the emphasis on artistry and musicality and I feel these are a direct result of the program having its founding roots in the MMDG,” she adds.
“As a very special occasion, I will be co-facilitating the Teacher Training Workshop with several of the MMDG dancers who are also regular Dance for PD® teachers. There will be a free Community Class on June 7th for members of the Parkinson’s Community and we will learn a section of MMDG choreography.”
Jeffrey, who likes to think of herself as a “dance activist”, believes that dance can act as a positive tool for community, health and social change. She was first introduced to the Dance Parkinson’s program whilst living in California through colleagues at Berkeley Ballet Theater and their connections with the Mark Morris Dance group Dance for PD® Program.
“I was struck by both the positive effect in the community, as well as the model of placing highly skilled artists at the center of the class. The dance class was valued as a an aesthetic and creative community experience,” says Jeffrey. “From my own dancer’s perspective, these classes are a beautiful and satisfying way to authentically share my own experience and passion for the art form in A way that also connects to community,” she says.
These classes are open to everyone from persons newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease to others with walkers and wheel chairs, family members and friends.
“Classes start seated and progress to options of supported standing and locomotor movements and phrases,” Jeffrey describes. “Dance for Parkinson’s classes are taught as rigorous dance classes that focus on artistry, coordination, rhythm, expression, creativity and connecting with community. We try to relate class work to events and performances that are happening in the community and often integrate adapted material from professional choreography into our classes.”
These classes also allow dance to be used as a science and have very clear indicators of the benefits of dance practice. Recently the first research project on Dance for Parkinson’s Classes in Australia was held in collaboration with the Queensland Ballet, University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology researchers with very positive results. There were increases in the group’s ability to maintain functional movement whilst multitasking such as walking and talking at the same time, less bodily discomfort, increases in emotional well being, confidence and communication.
Jeffrey also adds “The opportunities for creative expression and the artistic connections to a professional ballet company, including the experience of live music during classes, were highly valued. Furthermore, the dance class brought new people to dance and then acted as a gateway activity to participation in additional exercise, social activities and other new dance experiences.”
With such marked success in Australia and around the globe, Jeffrey still has great plans for the programme and believes there is more growth to be had. “I hope to see Dance for Parkinson’s Australia continuing to develop high-level dance classes for communities across Australia. Within 5 years I would like to hold our first conference to bring together teachers for professional development, networking and exchange. I also hope to see Dance for Parkinson’s as a leader in developing the Arts and Health framework in Australia. Through pursuit of artistic excellence, ongoing reflection, collaboration across sectors and support of research, I seek to continue to redefine and emphasize the positive role of dance in our communities.“
I had to ask about any particularly special moments Erica Rose Jeffrey had encountered during her time with the program. “I feel so fortunate to be teaching these classes as I have the chance to see real moments of connection and joy between loved ones, partners, family members and friends on a regular basis. There are so many beautiful and inspiring moments as well as the enduring presence of the meaningful communities that have developed around the classes.”
Jeffrey recounts a particular memory of a gentleman in his 80s attending the class in Brisbane and being able to dance again since having to stop because of Parkinson’s. “At the end of class, he teared up and shared that he loved dancing with his wife, but due to Parkinson’s had stopped, and that this class had brought back joy into his life. A couple of months later when we were involved in a publicity event, this same gentleman insisted we do one more dance than what I had planned and organized everyone to complete it. His initiative, renewed confidence and enthusiasm were the greatest acknowledgment of the value of this program.”
For more information on the FREE class, teacher training workshop and to learn more about the Mark Morris Dance Group season at the Sydney Opera House follow this link www.sydneyoperahouse.com/whatson/mark_morris_dance_group.
By Elle Evangelista of Dance Informa.
Photo (top): Queensland Ballet Dance for Parkinson’s Pilot program and research. Photo by Christian Tiger.