Don’t let fear of freezing keep you from the dance floor. Learn how dance therapy can help those with Parkinson’s.
Putting a little more swing in your step may seem like a daunting task if you have Parkinson’s disease. But cue some loud dance music, and you might find it easier to kick up your heels.
Dance classes designed just for those with Parkinson’s are becoming a popular option across the country. Science says dancing is a fun and effective way to boost balance, movement and flexibility in those with mild to moderately severe Parkinson’s disease.
Tap into your potential for healthier living and learn how a tempting tango, wistful waltz or other dance may help you express yourself and thrive.
Move to the Beat
Parkinson’s can make it difficult to multitask while walking. For example, taking a step while remembering your to-do list might be a challenge. Add in tremors and rigid movements, commonly seen in PD, and you might think your dance hall days are a thing of the past.
Not true! So turn up the music and get ready to get your groove back. Research shows that people with PD who take a dance class for at least 12 weeks have easier, smoother movements. They feel better overall and have short-term improvements in balance, mobility and freezing episodes.
The rhythmic beat of a loud song has a magical way of keeping your feet moving. Doctors often recommend saying “1, 2,3” and marching in place when a freezing episode strikes. Music, it seems, naturally helps you keep this beat.
Researchers think dancing to a loud beat turns on nerve cells related to movement and sends more blood to brain areas affected by Parkinson’s. One study of about 50 dancers with PD found that one-hour dance class boosted brain wave activity. That may explain the temporary improvements in walking and balance seen after a PD dance therapy session.
Scientists aren’t sure exactly what dance routine is best for Parkinson’s. Types studied have include the tango, waltz, foxtrot and Irish step dancing. They’re now looking into more details of dance to learn if the activity is just another form of physical therapy for people with PD, or if it has specific benefits.
Try the Tango
Tango is among the most studied type of dancing for Parkinson’s. It’s a good choice for those with PD because walking is its basic step. The large strides are much like those taught during physical therapy to combat freezing episodes. (For example, stepping over your partner’s foot.) The dance also involves quick stops and starts, which may help your brain remember how to initiate movement.
Bonus: You’ll get a good workout. A swift tango revs your heartbeat quite a bit (about 70 percent of its maximum rate).
Waltz this Way
Want to slow it down? Try a graceful waltz. The box step helps you fine-tune your backward walking, sidesteps and turns. Plus, you get heart healthy benefits equal to a stroll on a treadmill.
Ballet Just for You
If ballroom dance isn’t your speed, you might consider ballet. Some Parkinson’s dance therapy classes offer ballet or similar routines with flowing, rhythmic movements. No fancy ballet shoes needed. Come as you are in sturdy footwear.
Check out Danceforparkinsons.org, which offers classes worldwide.
Step Dance and a Smile? Small studies show dancing may help you swing those hips with a smile, of sorts. Tremors and masking related to PD may steal your grin, but researchers say dancing’s self-expression allows you to shine and smile, in your own unique way.
Plus, going out dancing is a great way to stay social. Maintaining an active social life helps boost your mental health and ward off depression. Depression is common in people with Parkinson’s disease.
I’m Ready. How Do I Get Started?
Don’t let tremors and shuffling steps steal your joy of movement. Dancing is an easy and social way to get you moving again. Hitting the dance floor with a partner seems to provide the best symptom benefit. But don’t be afraid to go solo. You might make a new friend!
Find Parkinson’s-specific dance therapy classes in your area by connecting with The Power Through Project. Discover how dance and other forms of exercise can help your symptoms and live better with Parkinson’s.
By Kelli Miller