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Several years ago, when I was teaching an undergraduate writing course in the school of nursing, a student in the class came to me with a delightful story. This student had just entered the BSN program but, short of money, needed to work to meet her tuition and living expenses. She chose to take the Certified Nursing Assistant course at a local nursing home. There, she worked evenings and nights. Finding that there were particular stretches in the late evening and early morning hours when most residents were sleeping, she conversed extensively with those who could not sleep. Over time, she and those residents together wrote life story sheets that she shared with nursing staff. One gentleman, in particular, had great difficulty sleeping and would pace the halls continuously with some difficulty. He seemed to her so unhappy. The student would walk alongside him and encourage him to chat. She learned one night that he had been a professional dancer and had taught ballroom dancing for decades at an Arthur Murray studio in New York City. All of a sudden, that night, she turned to him and said, "Do you want to dance?" "Oh yes!" was the reply. Thereafter, when she was on duty and free, the two would dance. She reported that after these sessions, his mood improved and he was able to sleep.


It was not surprising to me to learn then that there is a movement across the United States now to provide music and dance classes for those with Parkinson disease (PD). There are several funded research projects ongoing. One is being conducted at the University of Calgary. A preliminary report shows that "music and dance has the ability to lift some patients out of an immobile frozen state, known as gait-freezing, and allow them to temporarily escape the crippling effects of the disease." Indeed, there are many stories of individuals diagnosed for a decade or nearly so who have begun to lose their ability to walk and drive but can dance.1 One study participant said, "When I dance[horizontal ellipsis]it's like the Parkinson's doesn't exist[horizontal ellipsis]. For that short time when the music's playing and we're dancing, it's a powerful feeling." The lead researcher at the University of Calgary, Dr Bin Hu, states that "while it's been known music stimulates movement in patients afflicted with the progressive neurodegenerative disease, the science behind the phenomenon has yet to be discovered."1


In Oakland, California, Dancespace offers dance classes for those with PD and their partners and friends. The professional dancer, David Leventhal, who choreographed the class, believes that people with PD and dancers really have the same challenge, and that challenge is about finding a consciousness in movement. "I think that's one of the reasons why dance, in particular, is so valuable for them, because it's a road map for how to move, not only that, it's a fun road map."2 University of California San Francisco neurologist Dr Alec Glass states, "Studies suggest dance versus ordinary exercise, helps PD patients regain balance and fight depression, sometimes better than medication."2


Remarkably, today, the US News and World Report highlighted a study first published in the Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy that is being conducted at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis. Researchers compared the effects of Argentine tango lessons and exercise classes on the functional mobility of 19 patients with PD. The patients were randomly assigned to do 20 one-hour tango classes or group strength and exercise sessions designed for patients with PD and the elderly.3


"All of the patients were assessed prior to the start of these activities and after they completed the sessions. The dance classes included stretching, balance exercises, tango-style walking, footwork patterns, experimenting of timing of steps, and dance with and without a partner. The exercise classes included 40 minutes of seated exercise, followed by standing exercises supported by a chair, core strengthening and stretching."3


"By the end of the sessions, both groups showed significant improvements in standard tests designed to measure mobility. People in the Tango group showed more improvement in balance than those in the exercise group."3 Researcher Gammon Earhart stated, "While dance in general may benefit people with Parkinson's several aspects of tango movement may be especially helpful to these patients, including dynamic balance, turning, initiation of movement, moving at different speeds, and walking backward."


Narratives of people with PD who have discovered the benefits and joy of music and dance are to be found on the Internet. One blog in particular is especially worthy of note: Parkinson's Patients: Yes We Can Dance (


According to Dr Tagliati,3 "There is a constellation of symptoms that don't respond to dopamine treatment, and we are still not very good at taking care of them. We don't know what dance does, exactly, for these, but it's a complex and fascinating area of research. And the idea of having something that is considered an expression of beauty and youth and coordination to help those with an inability to move; well, it's romantic."


Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. (Beethoven)




1. Cravit CR. Dancing: could it provide a clue to curing Parkinson's? 50-Plus.Net International. Accessed December 1, 2008. [Context Link]


2. Tom P. Parkinson's patients benefit from dancing. March 21, 2008. Accessed December 1, 2008. [Context Link]


3. HealthDay News. Tango classes put Parkinson's patients a step ahead: findings suggest spins, turns of the passionate dance improve mobility, balance. US News and World Report. December 1, 2008. Accessed December 1, 2008. [Context Link]