Just People Dancing

I’ve always loved to dance. When I was a kid, that consisted of putting an LP on the stereo and dancing around the living room. My favorite LP’s were from Broadway shows – My Fair Lady, Brigadoon, and Oklahoma were some favorites. I took one or two ballet classes as a kid, but didn’t start to take serious dance classes until after college, when I moved to the north side of Chicago.

Fast forward to 2017, when I’ve taken dance classes of all sorts for the past 40 years – ballet, ballroom, tap, musical theatre, Argentine Tango, folk dance, square dance, line dancing, and even a short stint of belly dance! I consider myself extremely lucky to have the time, money, and opportunity to still dance 4 or more times per week. Dance continues to be one of my favorite activities, and is by far my favorite physical activity.

I love sharing the joy of dance. My philosophy is that the doing of dance is much more enriching than watching dance, yet so many people talk themselves out of even trying to dance because they assume you need certain attributes in order to dance, i.e.: a) be able to lift your leg up to your eyeballs, b) look good in a leotard, and/or c) been dancing since you were 3 years old. I think people should dance just for the joy of it, and for me, dancing with other people makes the joy grow exponentially. And, in addition to the joy and community that dance brings, there have been many studies that show the physical and neurological benefits of dance. A recent article in the NY Times asked if dance was better for the brain than walking or stretching?

When I found out about the Dance for PD (R) program, I instinctively knew that this was something I would love to teach. Dance for PD was started about 15 years ago as a collaboration between the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group in Brooklyn NY. One of their key ideas is that “the essence of dance is joy”. A Dance for PD class is patterned after most dance classes, with a warm-up, a standing section, across the floor dances, and a “routine”. The difference between a Dance for PD class and any other dance class is that Dance for PD is inclusive, no matter where a person is on the spectrum of physical or neurological limitations. Some participants may not be able to stand, but they can still move while seated, and are included as an important part of class. Caregivers are also included in the class, and, in my experience, they also enjoy and benefit from the class. Dance is a great equalizer – just because a person has fewer physical limitations doesn’t necessarily make them a better dancer!

I’ve been teaching a dance class for a group of seniors using the Dance for PD model for the past 6 months. They love it, and I love it. All of them are in wheelchairs, so we don’t do any standing dances, and some of them have severe physical limitations. One of the participants has rheumatoid arthritis, which makes it painful for her to move, but she comes regularly to class and is one of its most ardent fans. Virtually every week, she tells me “You have no idea how much I get out of class”. Right back at ya, Muriel.

I’m looking to bring this class to other locations, and have been looking for a name that doesn’t limit it only to people with PD. The name that came to mind was “JPD: Just People Dancing”, which includes my initials (JP), the initials of Parkinson’s disease (PD), and hopefully conveys that it’s something that everyone can do. What do you think?




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