Therapeutic dancing helps with Parkinson’s

The class warmed up with breathing exercises.

Dance classes are not usually associated with debilitating diseases, however, Dance for Parkinson’s Disease (PD) SA has changed that perception with its therapeutic programme.

Parkinson’s disease affects the central nervous system, impacting the body’s movement.

The dance classes help those suffering from Parkinson’s to regain strength through dancing.

The disease affects mostly middle-aged and elderly people.

Dance instructors Julie Symmonds, from Hout Bay, and Carmen Davidson, from Fish Hoek, have been teaching dancing since the mid-90s.

They hold classes to help those living with Parkinson’s disease to move, enjoy some music and have their minds stimulated.

The idea was sparked when grandmother Audrey Beesley, who was living with Parkinson’s, brought her grandchild to Julie’s ballet classes.

Ms Beesley shared with Julie information about dance classes for Parkinson’s sufferers in the UK.

Julie then did some research and in 2015 flew off to the UK to do a Dancing for Parkinson’s course.

Carmen joined Julie in 2017 and classes were held at the Playhouse Theatre in Somerset West.

They have now branched out into various communities including Mouille Point, Sea Point, Constantia and Pinelands.

Julie said the teaching experience took away 90% of anxiety as they are now aware of how to deal with people.

“We assess where they are in their day, will it be a good day or bad? How there meds (medication) are working and taking safety precautions.”

Carmen refers to the classes as “soul food”.

“By Sunday evening we are both longing for Monday’s class,” she said.

She said their students came out of their shells at the classes.

“Nobody judges each other. Many of them come in very reserved or unsure and after a few weeks they realise that this is a completely safe place. Everybody is here to support one another,” she said.

People diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease spend most of their days isolated and have little or no contact with other people, however, there was a jovial mood in a class at the Presbyterian Church in Pinelands.

Those taking part enjoyed each other’s company as much as they delighted in the dancing, which included balancing exercises.

They were taken through their paces by the sounds of tambourines and ended off their routine to Cotton Eye Joe, followed by tea and biscuits and time to socialise.

Frances Tweedie, from Pinelands, said she was diagnosed with the disease in 2001. “This class keeps me mobile and it keeps me going. I find the class helpful,” she said.

Sybil Head, from Rondebosch, said: “This is the third time (attending) and I did not realise how unbalanced I was. I find that the class is helping. You just need to concentrate.”

Bloubergstrand resident Meredith Wood said his handwriting had improved since he started attending the classes. He said he is still fit and could garden, swim and walk his dogs.

Lorraine Lumpret, from Pinelands, said: “It’s good for us to come here, besides the physical exercises. It lifts your spirit.”

Classes take place on Mondays at the Pinelands Presbyterian Church; Tuesdays at the Fish Hoek Community Hall; and Fridays at Christ Church in Constantia. All classes start at 10am. The cost is R70 a class.