In the course of an hour, participants with the Parkinson’s Disease Support Group in Port Angeles found themselves in a full-fledged fun workout from the seats of their chairs.
They stretched and flowed their hands, looking like an amateur production of “Swan Lake.”
Most participants, with conditions like Parkinson’s disease, by the end were smiling and thanking dancer Corrie Befort, a professional performance artist for 12 years specializing in leading dance classes with for people with Parkinson’s and other neuromuscular conditions.
On April 14, she begins a series of similar dance therapy sessions (see box) for people across the peninsula, emphasizing a fun, social, stimulating environment rather than a clinical one.
Befort said the event is fairly broad in terms of who can benefit from it: those with arthritis, fibromyalgia or multiple sclerosis; stroke victims; and others.
Following the late March informational dance session, Befort said she observed people initially were sitting way back in their chairs but as they went along, people became more expressive and lively.
“Parkinson’s is the disease that takes the liveliness away,” she said. “Dance can help people feel more lively in their bodies.” Befort follows the program “Dance for PD” started by the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group. She’s been leading Dance for PD classes for two years and instructs up to five classes a week, including one in Anacortes for up to 20 people.
“Some people have been taking the class for a year and are able to do things longer and gain a better sense of balance,” Befort said.
Deb Stoltenberg, co-organizer of the Port Angeles dance group, said exercise plays a big part in Parkinson’s.
“It’s good to do something different everyday for at least 15 minutes,” she said.
Ruth Egger, social services manager for the Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation (sponsor organization of the dance group), said classes like this are growing and branching off from bigger areas like Seattle, Bellingham and Portland, Ore.
“This helps to unleash their creative selves,” Egger said.
“What we do is try and make new brain pathways. It sends a different pathway and restimulates the brain.”
Befort said her emphasis on a relaxed social environment means people can stand or sit. No previous dance experience is necessary.
Each performance includes a live accompanist playing a variety of styles, Befort said.
Activities include working with breathing, elongating the spine, and more while building up balance, coordination, flexibility and gait.
“This is formed for you,” Befort told the group.
“There’s no expectation to put on point shoes. There’s no show. Just enjoy what you are doing.”
Stoltenberg said once the group is established they hope to find a local person Befort can train to take over the program. They also are looking for a local accompanist and a permanent meeting place to house Dance for PD events.
Befort said she wants to include as many people as possible, and if the admission fee is a problem, participants should let organizers know at the event entrance.
For more on the dance group, call Deb Stoltenberg at 477-4730 or Corrie Befort at 206-910-3017 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Parkinson’s Disease Support Group meets at 10:30 a.m. the fourth Wednesday of the month at the Port Angeles Senior Center, 328 E. Seventh St.
In the Pacific Northwest, 70,000 people have Parkinson’s disease and there are more than one million with it in the U.S.
For more on the Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation, visit www.nwpf.org.