'You just forget the fact you have Parkinson's': Regina dance class opens a world of motion for patients

A Regina dance class is helping people with Parkinson's disease take back control of their movements.

Patients say they've benefited from the specialized movements

One of the participants in the Parkinson's dance class moves her arms to the beat of the music. (CBC News)

Dance is helping people with Parkinson's disease in Regina take back control of their movements.

The creative dance classes for those living with the neurodegenerative disorder started in March 2017.

"It's so much fun and it's relaxing. You just forget the fact you have Parkinson's — you really do, you forget, and you just enjoy it," said John Dawes, program coordinator for the Regina support group.

The illness affects the central nervous system and can result in shaking, rigidity, and difficulty in moving.

John Dawes calls the class fun and relaxing. (CBC News)

Dawes and support group members wanted to start a dance class after reading about the benefits online.

A dance class specialized for those with Parkinson's disease was first developed in Brooklyn, N.Y., and has spread internationally.

Dawes said this is the first such class to be offered in Saskatchewan.

It provides large movements that help with the symptoms of rigidity and stiffness associated with Parkinson's. 

"The music gets you moving more than a regular exercise program. It's good for your mind, and soul. It's the movement that arises from how the program is run," said Dawes.

The instructor said the large movements help with the symptoms of rigidity and stiffness. (CBC News)

Fran Gilboy, an instructor with Fada Dance, was asked if she would lead the specialized class.

"I said, 'No, I won't. I don't know anything about the disease. I feel really incompetent. I wouldn't think it would be a safe mix,'" recalled Gilboy. "He said, 'Here's a book and I'll see you in March.' He wouldn't take no for an answer."

Gilboy began to research how dance can improve the lives of those living with Parkinson's disease and developed a half hour pilot dance program held at the Regina Public Library Sunrise Branch. Based on the positive feedback, she ran a second class.

Classes offered free to patients

After the second class, Gilboy went out to the parking lot of the leisure centre and called the Saskatchewan Arts Board. 

"I said 'Is there something we can do?' and I wrote a grant."

The grant allowed Gliboy to run an eight-month, free dance class for those with Parkinson's Disease and their caregivers.

"They are so warm, so welcoming, we laugh a lot, and smile a lot. In a lot of ways, it's my favourite class to teach for the week," said Gilboy.
The specialized class is eight weeks long as a trial run for patients. (CBC News)

She also trained in Toronto with David Leventhal, the New York dance instructor who created dance for Parkinson's Disease.

One lesson that stuck out to Gilboy was how a dancer's approach differs from a physiotherapist's approach.

"A participant in one of the classes said, 'Dancers are like an ambassador for the body. They come in and say you can do this, you can do this, your body can move like this.' I think that's it. There's a very positive approach rather than a, 'What's wrong and how can we fix it?'" said Gilroy.

Dawes said he agrees and hopes the program can expand to all thirteen Parkinson's disease support groups in the province.