People with Parkinson's get their rhythm back in dopamine-boosting tango classes

Marilyn Nadolsky first realized there was something wrong with her when she couldn't dance anymore — but years later, she's back on the floor with a vengeance at a class specifically for people with Parkinson's disease.

Classes at Rady JCC provide boost of chemical that helps control movements, expert says

Marilyn Nadolsky and her husband, Nestor, share a smooch at a tango class for people with Parkinson's disease, like Marilyn. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Marilyn Nadolsky was out for the evening seven or eight years ago when she realized she couldn't dance anymore — she had no rhythm.

"That was the first time I knew there was something wrong with me," Nadolsky, now 75, said on Wednesday.

She didn't know it at the time, but her difficulty dancing was one of her first noticeable symptoms of Parkinson's disease; she was diagnosed not long after. The disease makes it difficult for her to walk and write, among other symptoms.

Now, years after she first noticed difficulty dancing, Nadolsky is back on the floor with a vengeance, tangoing weekly at a class just for people with Parkinson's.

"When you're thinking of the dancing, you don't think of anything else," Nadolsky said. "So I don't have a problem with my feet when I'm dancing."

Marilyn and Nestor Nadolsky tango for the exercise as well as the friendship with fellow classmates. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Nadolsky and her husband Nestor have been regulars at the tango class for people with Parkinson's at Winnipeg's Rady JCC Fitness Centre for the past three years. The class is part of the centre's Parkinson exercise program, which also includes classes in boxing, cycling and yoga.

"When you exercise, your brain gets flooded with dopamine, and dopamine is the chemical in your brain that helps control movement," said Donna Greening, who works for Parkinson Canada in Winnipeg.

"So while you're exercising and for a period of time afterwards, your movements are better controlled."

Mark Spencer, director of fitness and health at the Rady JCC, said the centre tries to offer a variety of options for people with the disease, so they don't get bored. At the dance class, the effects of exercise are obvious.

"Their neuromuscular control becomes much better," he said. "You see people that come in, start the class with tremors — they'll virtually disappear by the end of the class."

'It sure makes a difference'

More than 25 people are diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease every day in Canada, Parkinson Canada says. Research to beat the disease is promising, and it can be treated with medication to lessen symptoms, but there is currently no cure.

For Nadolsky, the symptoms show in her difficulty walking and making small movements, like writing or whipping cake batter. She considers herself lucky, because she can still do most things she likes.

But since symptoms of Parkinson's differ across patients, you can't just walk up to someone else with the disease and assume their experience is the same as yours, she said.

That's where the dance class comes in handy: the group of like-minded dance-lovers have become friends, Nadolsky said.

"You're in the classes together and we sit and talk if we come to class early. We've started getting together for coffee afterwards for a little while and that way you find out, too, how other people are feeling," she said.

"It sure makes a difference."

Nadolsky says her Parkinson's causes difficulty with her feet when she's walking, but not when she's dancing. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Peter Smrdelj, who has been teaching the class for the past two years, said he sees a difference, too, in the symptoms of his students — and it boosts his attitude, too.

"Sometimes when I leave here, I'm just like on cloud nine," he said. "Just really, so happy when I see the smiles at the end of the class, and the feedback I get, how positive they feel."

Nadolsky recommends other people with Parkinson's try it out.

"Yes, for sure," she said. "For the friendship and the exercise both."

Dancing the tango helps people with Parkinson's

3 years ago
People with Parkinson's get their rhythm back in dopamine-boosting tango classes. 1:56


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