How dance improves the lives of those with Parkinson’s disease


Dance for Parkinson’s Disease began in 2001 when Olie Westheimer, a Brooklyn Parkinson’s support group founder, approached the Mark Morris Dance Group.

“Let’s work together. Let’s create something together based on just a hunch,” said David Leventhal, program director for Mark Morris Dance Group’s Dance for Parkinson’s disease.

They had a hunch that dance would encourage socialization and more.

“She firmly believed that all of the strategies that dancers used to learn, execute and perform complicated movements, would be incredibly valuable for people with Parkinson’s,” said Leventhal.

Leventhal lectures at Columbia University and across the world, and at the Liberty Science Center in a New Jersey City University speech about how art and science intersect in Dance for Parkinson’s. He says since the beginning, the benefits have been anecdotal, but noticeable. Years later, scientific research would catch up and document them.

“What’s interesting about these benefits is it’s not just the thing you would expect in terms of motor skill, right? Better gait, better balance, but also things related to self-esteem, quality of life, cognitive skill,” said Leventhal.

“The program is also an extraordinary example of the power of the arts to bring different people together and to tangibly improve the quality of life,” said NJCU President Sue Henderson.

Parkinson’s sufferer David Iverson’s film captured Cyndy Gilbertson showing some of the benefits.

“My feet feel like glue when they’re stuck on the floor,” she said. “If I try to walk, I have a great deal of difficulty. I can walk a little bit. If I pretend I’m dancing I can move like this.”

Jewish Home Family in Rockleigh encourages its seniors with Parkinson’s disease to dance and to box because it knows the impact of the disease.

Carol Schulte of Red Bank wrote a book about the disease’s effects to give hope and inspiration to others. She encourages dance and can count the benefits.

“If you move with music in your head, you can basically move much more smoothly, so I do use music in my daily life,” said Schulte.

Dance for Parkinson’s Disease has become a worldwide movement. The key word for those with the disease: movement.