OKC Ballet to Offer New Therapy Class Focused on Parkinson’s Sufferers

Oklahoma City Ballet will be offering a ballet class that benefits people suffering from Parkinson’s Disease beginning September 5, 2017 and will be held in its new facility at 6800 North Classen Boulevard in Oklahoma City.  Dance for Parkinson’s is being offered through OKC Ballet’s growing outreach division, as a part of the Golden Swans program that benefits senior adults. This new program was made possible in part by a grant from the Oklahoma City Community Foundation’s Elderly Services iFund.

Ballet has been proven to be beneficial for Parkinson’s sufferers through the Dance for PD program created by Mark Morris Dance Group in collaboration with Brooklyn Parkinson Group. The program has received numerous awards and recognition from the Parkinson’s community. Erica Portell, OKC Ballet faculty member, attended classes in Brooklyn to become trained through Dance for PD in August.

“To me what is so unique about this approach is that it’s not ‘watered down’ or condescending,” said Portell of the classes. “There isn’t a dynamic of ‘you are a patient -let’s use dance to try and fix you.’  It respects that these people are grown adults with long, rich life experiences to draw from and to contribute.  I would say a better description of the dynamic is ‘You Have Parkinson’s. And you are here as a dance student.’”

Parkinson’s sufferers greatly benefit from the community formed, the strength and stability developed, and confidence in movement that ballet classes aid in developing. The program consists of one hour classes that vary between doing movements while seated, using the back of the chair for assistance, and doing movements across the floor. All instruction is catered to the abilities of that particular student, with options given for varying degrees of difficulty.

“Class is beyond inclusive,” added Portell. “It is presented with options and modifications for everyone from early onset or recent diagnosis to those using wheelchairs or walkers. There’s a way for everyone to participate at their maximum level.” Portell’s own father suffers from Parkinson’s Disease.

“He was an amazing tap dancer in his younger years and that connection of moving to music was really helpful-even with simple tasks like walking. Listening to music helped his ability to walk without tripping or “freezing.” This is true for so many PD patients. I so wish he had access to a program like this when he was initially diagnosed. He was always my greatest cheerleader to support my dance training and I am so thrilled to do this in some small tribute to him and to help others like him.”

Dance transforms the participant’s thinking in ways that are very beneficial to people with Parkinson’s disease. Dance, specifically choreography or simply putting a sequence of movements together, ultimately helps participants to start thinking creatively on how to move from point A to point B. Participating in dance classes helps instill confidence in students by emphasizing what they are able to do and not focusing on what they cannot do. Dance also expands their abilities to do certain things, helping with their strength, stamina, flexibility, and stability. Finally, participants feel a sense of community by being a part of a group dance class. Dancing together forms bonds, and there are specific activities that are conducted within the class in order to help participants develop those bonds.

Oklahoma City Ballet will be working with the Parkinson Foundation of Oklahoma in order to reach the people in need of these classes. The expected outcomes of the program are that participants will have a decrease in their symptom severity. The class will create a supportive community with socialization opportunities. The classes will also keep the participants moving and agile in a way that works best with their abilities.

Starting September 5, this free class will be held every Tuesday at 2:00pm until 3:00 pm at the Brackett Dance Center at 6800 North Classen Boulevard. For more information or to sign up for these classes, please contact OKC Ballet’s Outreach Coordinator, Stephanie Pitts by emailing Stephanie@okcballet.org.

Photo by Ellis Gaskell, courtesy of MMDG/Dance for PD
Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of MMDG/Dance for PD
Photo by Amber Star Merkens, courtesy of MMDG/Dance for PD