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dna’s Dancing with Parkinson’s

You might be wondering what a ‘typical’ Dancing with Parkinson’s class looks like with dna? Well, look no further, I’ll tell you!

As with all classes, we start with a warm-up. I like to start these classes seated so we can build to standing once we’re feeling focused, confident and warm. I also tend to repeat the same warm up each session, starting by looking at our posture, finding a tall spine and feet rooted down into the floor. Also, breath-work to centre us and go within our bodies; see how they’re feeling on the day – tired? Energised? Achy? Stiff?

We slowly work through the body, warming up each part sequentially, focusing on the articulation of joints and increasing the heart rate. Movements, such as marching to the beat of the music, are great to help increase the heart rate but also helps with rhythm and musicality. This can be beneficial to someone living with Parkinson’s who has symptoms such as freezing or a shuffling walk, as they’re able to find the rhythm and get their body moving again.

The next part of the session is where I love to add in a prop for support. My go-to props are either a heart stress ball or a TheraBand. The heart stress ball helps with strengthening the wrist and hand, by squeezing and releasing, and improving grip. We’ll tend to find an upbeat song to squeeze in time to the beat and create various patterns, swapping hands and reaching around the body. The TheraBand is used to help strengthen the muscles in the arms and the legs, using resistance. Again, finding a funky track of music to stretch and release to, makes it more engaging and keeps us in time.

Photo: Steve Brading

Lack of coordination can be one of the symptoms someone living with Parkinson’s might experience, so we always add in a coordination exercise to get our brains warmed up, as well as our bodies. Movements such as crossing arms to shoulders, challenging sequences changing from left to right, changing counts from 8’s to 4’s to 2’s, and movements that involve the upper and lower body moving at the same time. A bit like patting your head and rubbing your stomach (I bet you’re trying it now)!

I also like to introduce a voice warm up here, as one of the symptoms of Parkinson’s can be a quietness or difficulty using the voice. Recently we have played a bit of a game using the voice, counting from 1-8 but changing some of the numbers to movements or different sounds. I highly recommend trying it with any group you dance with – it’s really good fun and a challenge!

This is normally the part of the session where, if comfortable and able to, you’re invited to stand. We use the back of the chair for support to begin with, maybe introducing a foot or transference of weight exercise. This helps build up stability and confidence, especially if there’s a higher risk of falls. We also adapt to a seated version.

Each term we work with a different theme to help feed into movement material and creative elements of the session. Previously we’ve used poems, music (such as musicals) dance works as inspiration such as Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, and stories/experiences from individuals in the class. I’ve found feeding in participant’s ideas, for example using their hobbies as stimulus to create movement, is a great way for us all to get to know each other and makes an interesting stimulus for exploration too. As a participant it’s a good opportunity to take ownership of that material you’re creating and share as much or little as you like with the rest of the group.

Depending on the theme and stimulus other props can really support the exploration further. For example, using coloured scarves to exaggerate an arm movement. It allows a greater range of motion (and looks beautiful) or a firm favourite within dna’s sessions are the ribbon sticks. Feedback has been that it allows an individual to explore more movement pathways and generate new ideas.

Partner and group work is also used to share interesting movements and build into sequences – testing your memory! – and it’s a favourite part of the session for me as the artist; to see how a stimulus has been interpreted by everyone differently.

Finally we end with a cool down, thinking back to our posture and how we’re feeling, stretching into the areas of the body we have worked and re focussing. I like to reflect on how the body feels at the end of session too – are you still feeling how you felt at the beginning, or has it changed in any way? Feedback such as energised and elated are some of the best things you can hear from your participants at the end of the class!

So there you have it! A snapshot into what our Dancing With Parkinson's classes look like.

If you'd like to join one of our classes (online or in person later this year) please do get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.

Written by Dance Development Officer Karen Pratt, who currently leads the sessions.


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