Parkinson’s patients are moving to the beat
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological condition, the symptoms of which typically comprise of tremor, rigidity and slowness of movement (bradykinesia). These symptoms, amongst others, often have a detrimental effect on aspects of day-to-day life including walking, maintaining balance and participating in social activities. However, more and more sufferers of the disease are turning to dance to help alleviate some of their symptoms. Recent studies have suggested that dancing is an effective method for addressing areas of concern specific to Parkinson’s sufferers (notably gait, balance and muscle rigidity – but also confidence and self-esteem). In line with our patient-centric focus, Hanson Zandi has explored the different styles of dance that might offer particularly positive impacts on the conditions of those with Parkinson’s.
Learning the Argentine Tango involves learning very specific movement strategies. Even if you’ve never touched a dance floor, I imagine you have already pictured a stern looking pair in red taking long, low strides across the room to a strict rhythm. This style of dance is particularly effective in encouraging mastery of balance and movement. When learning to walk backwards, for example, a specific strategy is taught by which weight is kept over the supporting foot whilst the rear foot always remains connected with the floor. Conscious and purposeful steps enable confidence in movement, both in and out of the dance studio. The performance of tango steps to a metered and predicted beat have also shown indications of increased activation in the putamen (the part of the brain that prepares and aids movement of the limbs).
Despite its effortless appearance, the Waltz has been discovered to deliver cardiovascular benefits equivalent to those acquired through treadmill training – it is also, arguably, a lot more fun. Alongside the Argentine Tango, the Waltz has been shown to make significant improvements to balance, six-minute walk distance (6MWD), and backward walking velocity. However, it also requires dancers to take long backwards strides across the floor, helping to improve backward stride length in addition to velocity. The Waltz, like other partner dances, requires a different kind of co-ordination to ballet. Unlike ballet (which requires significantly less partner work), dancers are always accountable for coordinating their movements with those of their partner, requiring the development of greater skill and accuracy (for fear of bruised toes).
This style of dance is renowned for requiring impeccable posture, balance and control. Although a ballet class for Parkinson’s sufferers may not typically showcase triple pirouettes, grand jetés or fouettés, the core principles of ballet may still be used – for example: coordination, limb extension, lifted posture and fluidity. For any ballet student, the correct posture is taught before any of the more complicated steps are learned; for Parkinson’s sufferers, this helps to elongate the thoracic spine which often develops a curved line. Coordination is gradually achieved between the arms and legs (often to a greater degree than other styles of dance), isolating the arms at first (port des bras) then incorporating the legs (often in an adage). The characteristically expressive music used in ballet also acts as an auditory cue for movement and artistry at a more automatic/unconscious level.
A sense of achievement
Whilst all three styles of dance appear to prompt physical improvements in Parkinson’s patients, there are perhaps even greater benefits to dancing. The sense of community and the feeling of inclusion that dance classes offer can be incredibly valuable for someone suffering from an often isolating disease. Not only that, but the ability to be expressive through movement offers a solution to the common loss of expression through the voice. Perhaps most important to the Parkinson’s sufferer, however, is the enhancement and enrichment of day-to-day life through the acquisition of new skills and the sense of achievement that follows.
Opportunities for Parkinson’s sufferers to get involved in dance are now better than ever. The Dance for Parkinson’s Network provides classes around the country, offering a range of different dance styles. Classes are run by specially trained teachers, and aim to provide a high quality dance experience. Click on the video below to watch English National Ballet’s Dance for Parkinson’s class in action.
For more information, or to find a class near you, follow this link:
Brown S, Martinez MJ, Parsons LM, ‘The Neural Basis of Human Dance’, Cereb Cortex, 2006 August; 16 (8): 1157-67
Earhart GM. ‘Dance as Therapy for Individuals with Parkinson Disease’, European journal of physical and rehabilitation medicine. 2009;45(2):231-238.
Hackney ME, Earhart GM,‘Effects of Dance on Movement Control in Parkinson’s Disease: a Comparison of Argentine Tango and American Ballroom’, J Rehabil Med, 2009 May; 41 (6)
Houston S et al., English National Ballet, Dance for Parkinson’s: An Investigative Study 2, April 2015