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Dance program gives new life to Parkinson’s patients

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Posted: Monday, March 25, 2013 12:15 am

Ellie Schmidt pliéd across the floor in sync with the gentle piano music.

Schmidt, 80, of Gainesville, isn’t taking up dance as a hobby. She’s dancing to counteract Parkinson’s disease.

Schmidt participates in the UF Center for Arts in Medicine’s Dance for Life program.

The program helps Parkinson’s disease patients target their balance, strength and mobility to slow down the progression of the disease.

The center received a $30,500 grant to conduct a research study of the effects of dance on Parkinson’s disease.

The 16-week study, which began earlier this month, is still looking for research participants.

But on Friday, program participants and UF dance majors were treated to a class taught by instructors from the Mark Morris Dance Group in New York.

The group, which performed later that night at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, developed a therapeutic dance program for Parkinson’s disease patients.

Chelsea Moehlenbrock, a 22-year-old applied physiology and kinesiology senior, has been involved with Dance for Life for a year and a half.

As a program assistant, she conducts research and helps teach the classes.

In her experience, Moehlenbrock said she’s seen physical, cognitive and emotional benefits in her patients, especially through social involvement.

“Taking dance classes is way more fun than physical therapy,” she said.

Schmidt, who was diagnosed in 2010, has been attending the program for two years.

She said dancing helps her balance and coordination.

“It’s part of my schedule now,” Schmidt said. “I miss it if I don’t come.”

Contact Colleen Wright at [email protected]

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