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Dance For Parkinson’s: How Ballet Is Changing People’s Physical & Emotional Well-Being
March 17, 2013
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It's not a cure, but here's something that seems to be helping people with Parkinson's disease.

Ballet.

The English National Ballet runs classes each week for people with the disease and the results, officials say, are fascinating.

Better balance, better coordination, better flexibility, looser muscles, getting up out of wheelchairs, and smiling.

"After the class one feels better in several different ways," said Peter Linton who's a regular.

"First, is the purely physical side - you've had some exercise, sometimes quite vigorous, to loosen the muscles and improve the tone.

"And then comes the music - you've had an hour of very beautiful music, and that adds this emotional dimension. And then are the social things as well - the cup of tea after the class," he told the BBC.

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Researchers at the University of Roehampton in west London are keeping track of the changes in people's physical and emotional well-being, as well as their balance and stability.

The goal is to slow down the effects of the disease and help people manage their symptoms as they become worse.

Dr. Sara Houston, the lead researcher in the study, told the Telegraph, "One of the most noticeable aspects of the project was how it supported participants' confidence, as well as improving their bodily awareness."

Not only that but Dr. Houston says the class gives people a chance to express themselves, which is often difficult as speech gets slurred and muscles become stiffer and slower.

"This extra dimension in dance, which you don't get through other physical activities, the imaginative element, becomes very important to people," she told the BBC.

Here's a video of the classes.

Danielle Jones of the English National Ballet helped develop the program and teaches the Dance For Parkinson's classes.

She told the BBC she tries to "improve a feeling of flow, a feeling of grace, and most importantly freedom."

"What I notice in the participants is their confidence to believe in themselves as movers, as dancers - to understand that they are capable of these things."

As she told the Telegraph "they came into class after perhaps having a difficult day, shaking or stiff and maybe in a wheelchair. But as the class progressed, the music started and the exercises picked up tempo, that disappeared.

"They found walking across the room, which they would usually find really difficult, really easy. Rather than concentrating on the disease, it was "a chance for them to have fun", she said.

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Peter Linton agrees: "Physical exercises are just that, but music adds a new dimension to what we are doing," he told the BBC.

"We're trying to express ourselves, not only in dance but responding to the music. And that I find really quite absorbing."

As for his symptoms, Linton said "They'll never get better but at least they won't get worse. And some people tell me that I now look and behave better than I did three years ago."

Parkinson's disease affects an estimated seven to 10 million people around the world.

There is no cure, but in the short-term, medication can help. Over the long term though, drugs become less effective.

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