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Dance class proves therapeutic for Parkinson’s disease patients

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Posted: Friday, April 6, 2012 4:45 am

In the bustling classrooms inside the Nadine McGuire Theatre and Dance Pavilion, dance students stretch their muscles, perfect choreography and find life-changing inspiration in a class of Parkinson’s disease patients.

Students who volunteer with Dance For Life, a class that helps Parkinson’s patients improve their movement and coordination, have found the true beneficiaries of the class are themselves.

Many alumni of Dance For Life venture into the field of dance in health care because of the experience.

Julie Brannen, a UF alumna pursuing a master’s degree in dance/movement therapy and counseling at Columbia College, has been involved with the class since its inception in Spring 2009.

Brannen said it was amazing to see the Parkinson’s patients’ progression of being comfortable with movement and initiating their own movement even while they’re in pain.

Unlike physical therapy, dance movement therapy focuses on psychological recovery through movement, Brannen said.

For most participants, however, it’s the relationships that make the class an unforgettable experience.

Lindsay Head, a 20-year-old dance sophomore who volunteered last fall, said a special moment for her was seeing the effect her touch had on a patient. Head was surprised to find that the tremors in her partner’s hand would cease under her touch during an activity in class.

The sense of belonging to a group, the physical activity and the interaction with a different generation has been proven to help alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s, said Irene Malaty, assistant professor in UF’s Department of Neurology and medical director of the National Parkinson Foundation Center for Excellence at UF.

As Dance For Life wraps up this semester, the patients prepare for their final performance at the Spring BFA Dance Showcase on April 14. But apart from the chance to perform, every person in the class gains something.

“It totally let me see how dance and movement can be healing in people’s lives, and it’s definitely led me down the path of, ‘Hey, I can do this for a living,’” Brannen said. “It’s an amazing career.”

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