Dance is usually viewed as a beautiful, aesthetic practice – not a therapeutic, rehabilitative exercise. Dancing/Parkinson’s: The Calgary Project, is an exciting program that combines the expertise of the University of Calgary Division of Dance with neuroscientist and adjunct assistant professor in Dance, Dr. Afra Foroud and community partners Decidedly Jazz Danceworks and Parkinson Alberta, in a unique research program that could provide a valuable new therapeutic approach to helping those with Parkinson’s disease.
The Dancing/Parkinson’s research study, which is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) the Rozsa Foundation, and Parkinson Alberta, is an innovative program which uses weekly dance classes as a therapeutic tool for Parkinson’s patients to improve practical motor skills while providing an avenue for social communication and emotional expression. “With Parkinson’s disease, the ability to move, to express emotions and ideas is diminished or even lost. In this way, the many aspects of what makes each of us unique and independent can become extremely challenging,” says Dr. Foroud. “In dance, we are not only moving, we are sensing, feeling, expressing, thinking and creating all at once. Dance is the expressive integration of the many aspects of what makes us who we are.”
The multi-disciplinary dance study will examine both the quantitative and qualitative effects of dancing, integrating a series of tasks usually applied in clinical and research settings. The University of Calgary Dance Division, lead by Professor Anne Flynn who teaches with the faculties of Arts and Kinesiology, and community partners Decidedly Jazz Danceworks, led by Founder in Residence, Vicki Adams Willis, were tasked with designing a dance program that would engage participants by stimulating the motor and cognitive areas of the brain, while allowing for expression and building social relationships. The 40 Dance/Parkinson’s participants began dancing on October 29, 2013, and will continue with weekly classes until April 2014, after which they will undergo further testing to evaluate motor skills against a control group of dancers who do not have Parkinson’s disease. The research program builds on a successful pilot project held in winter of last year.
Flynn is a Co-investigator on a $2.5 million dollar national partnership grant funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada on Arts for Social Change, which is studying the design and evaluation of arts-based programs that focus on capacity building in communities. Dancing/Parkinson’s is one of the case studies in this national five-year project. (http://art-for-social-change.ca) The Dancing/Parkinson’s program uses an “Arts for Social Change” model meaning that participants and researchers all contribute in an atmosphere of co-learning that captures a diversity of experience. Besides contributing to the growing body of knowledge about the benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s, the project also hopes to offer insights into how the arts can be used effectively as tools for creating individual and community well-being.
Program Contact: Anne Flynn, Professor, Dance, Unviersity of Calgary