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Ballet for Parkinson’s

San Francisco Ballet School Director Patrick Armand knows firsthand the benefits of exercise for Parkinson’s. His mother Colette Armand, a ballet teacher, lived with the disease.

So when the ballet school had the opportunity to start new dance programs, Patrick reached out to Kaiser Permanente to partner on a class for people with Parkinson’s.

That partnership started with a pilot dance program for Parkinson’s in the fall of 2017. The free-of-charge, eight-week course was open to both people living with the disease and their support partners who had the opportunity to learn from ballet instructor Cecelia Beam, who is also trained in Dance for PD®.

Today Kaiser Permanente and SF Ballet School are offering a yearlong series of classes for people with Parkinson’s and their support partners. BGF sat down with Cecelia, to learn more about the program.

BGF: Tell us a little about yourself.

CB: I went to high school at North Carolina School of the Arts, a well known arts school, and was on track to becoming a professional ballet dancer. But in college, I found I also had other interests, including medicine and physical therapy. After college, I began teaching ballet, primarily to adults. Years later, I gained a position as the HR Manager at the San Francisco Ballet, and have been honored to be a part of the company for over 20 years.

I’ve since retired from my HR career, but have kept teaching ballet and working in our Education and Training Department. When the Parkinson’s program was starting to form, I was selected to run the program because of my mix of administrative and teaching backgrounds.

BGF: Tell us more about the program.

CB: The program aims to provide a dance experience for participants as well as create a community for people with Parkinson’s. We start with an orientation at the beginning of each new session, so participants can get to know each other. I’ve had feedback that for at least one participant, this was the first time he had spoken publically about his condition. So community building is a big part of the program.

For the dance experience, we access movements from the ballets that are being performed on stage by the SF Ballet Company. I work with a pianist to modify the dances. For example, right now SF Ballet is performing The Sleeping Beauty, and I’ve choreographed a modified version of the Bluebird Variation from ACT III for the class.

During the pilot, we modified the Grandfather’s Dance from the Nutcracker. At the end of the session, the trainees from the San Francisco Ballet School came and performed some of the Nutcracker variations for the Parkinson’s dancers. The trainees and Parkinson’s dancers all finished the class together – it was very poignant to see them move together.

BGF: How do you modify the dances?

CB: Sometimes we’ll slow down the movements to half time, or just do the arms and remain in the chair. When standing, I’m careful about not doing backwards movements, which are not particularly safe for people with Parkinson’s. I also change tight or quick turns into very controlled, slow walks in a circle. We all start class in a chair, and everyone has the option to remain in a chair, if that makes them more comfortable.

BGF: What is one of the biggest benefits of participating in this program?

CB: The students get to learn dances that inspire artistic expression. We move to live music performed exquisitely by School Pianist Jamie Narushchen, and we dance in a beautiful studio. It really lifts their spirits and makes them feel special! They feel attached to the organization and supported by the community we’re building.

For more information about the dance class for Individuals with Parkinson’s classes at the San Francisco Ballet School, contact Cecelia Beam at or 415-865-6583.

Photo Credit: San Francisco Ballet School PD Class (© Chris Hardy)

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