People with Parkinson’s are being given a new lease of life – through the medium of dance.
English National Ballet has been working with people with Parkinson’s since 2010, becoming the first major dance company in the UK to do so.
Its national Dance for Parkinson’s programme offers people with Parkinson’s – as well as their carers, friends and family members – the chance to exercise, build strength and even reduce their symptoms.
But it’s also providing the people who attend weekly classes so much more than that.
Helen Watkins Snart, 73, has been attending the dance class once a week for the last four years.
She admits she wouldn’t have considered herself a dancer before.
‘I’ve got what you call two left feet,’ Helen told Metro.co.uk. ‘But it’s amazing to be involved with this. It means so much.
‘It has terrific benefits because it makes you feel calm, it uplifts you and at the end of the class you feel much more outgoing.’
The former singing teacher was diagnosed in 2004 and says that medicine only goes so far.
‘The pills I have are very good but they only work for a short time and it usually takes an hour for them to work. So doing something like this makes you feel much better,’ she said.
‘I never know quite how I’m going to feel each day, but I’m quite fortunate that at the moment I can get around.
‘But dancing helps your body become more expressive. Parkinson’s makes your expressions get smaller and smaller and ballet just extends and extends.
‘And the feeling lasts with you as well – on the bus on the way home I always want to talk to every body around me. It’s a wonderful feeling.’
A recent study by Roehampton University found that the ENB’s Dance for Parkinson’s classes had an effect on both the physical and mental health of participants.
Dancing reduced symptoms in everyday life for participants and gave people hope for the future by developing confidence and strength, the study found.
‘It helps physically and mentally,’ Helen told us.
‘I’ve met some amazing people and made many friends.
‘We have a cup of tea after the classes which I love because you can exchange ideas with people and get to know them.
‘It’s just really lovely.’
There can be anywhere from 30 – 50 at Helen’s dance class in London, the site of the first Dance for Parkinson’s class at Markova House in London.
It has been such a successful scheme that ENB has since expanded to deliver the programme nationally, working with regional hub partners in Oxford, Liverpool, Ipswich and Cardiff.
Engagement Director Fleur Derbyshire-Fox, who helped set up the classes, told Metro.co.uk: ‘Mine was a personal connection – a family member was living with Parkinson’s and was gradually becoming more isolated.
‘I wanted to challenge attitudes towards Parkinson’s by creating a dance programme that was about being a dancer and not about therapy and being defined by Parkinson’s. It was important to have a social element with opportunities to see ENB performances, meet artists and to connect with all aspects of the production process.’
The classes are led by professional English National Ballet trained dance artists and accompanied by live musicians.
‘It’s an immensely joyful class and everyone is very supportive of each other – it’s a great social network,’ Fleur said.
ENB has teamed up with the University of Manchester to start more research on the impact of dance on people with Parkinson’s and has plans to deliver training in Leeds in association with People Dancing and the Dance for Parkinson’s Partnership at Yorkshire Dance in 2018.
‘Given its proven benefits, everyone living with Parkinson’s should be able to have the opportunity to attend a high quality dance class,’ Fleur explained.
‘I would love ENB’s Dance for Parkinson’s to be rolled out further.’
And Helen would agree, saying she thinks dance should be a part of treatment for all people with Parkinson’s.
‘It keeps you going through the week knowing you’ve got dance coming up,’ she said.
‘Really its made such a difference.’
To find out more, visit the English National Ballet website.