News: Success of English National Ballet’s Dance for Parkinson’s programme revealed

Thursday 5 November 2015 by Carmel Smith

Dr Sara Houston, with members of an ENB Dance for Parkinson's group Photo: Mike Massaro

A four year study into the English National Ballet’s Dance for Parkinson’s programme, undertaken by academics from Roehampton University’s Department of Dance, has found that organised dancing offers those with the condition a physical activity which resonates deeply on intellectual, social, and emotional levels.

English National Ballet has led dance classes in London, Oxford, Liverpool, Ipswich and Cardiff since 2011. Dr Sara Houston and Ashley McGill from the University have worked with the participants in the capital to carry out biomechanical measurements and used questionnaires, extensive interviews, observations, focus groups, and film footage to assess the benefits of the programme.

Dr Houston said: “By talking to the dance group members and scientifically recording their movements, we’ve found improved quality of life has become evident. Dancing has really helped them deal with their disease and by coming together regularly they have been able to support each other. Some Parkinson’s support groups can feel depressing, but we’ve found dancing together has been a positive experience because members have focussed on dancing and not on the disease.

“The physical activity has created mental challenges as well – dancing requires a lot of multi-tasking from the brain so it keeps the mind active, which is hugely important. Dancing also keeps muscles loose, and with Parkinson’s Disease they can stiffen up very easily, so the regular movement helps muscle tone and means the dancers get used to dealing with balancing and moving in different ways.”

Dr Houston and Ms McGill revealed the full results of the study during a conference in the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells on 27 October, attended by dance and health experts.

The results, published in this report suggest dance activity:
• helps people with Parkinson’s to have a physically and socially-active lifestyle.
• encourages a feeling of capability, aiding fluency of movement, postural stability, and decreases the amount of temporary freezing (a symptom of Parkinson’s), despite progression of the disease.
• is a challenging mental workout.
• offers a community of support through dance, nurturing positive attitudes to the future and a sense of independence.
• helps people with Parkinson’s to stay motivated, and maintain or improve other non-motor aspects of daily life.

The study also showed participants consistently experienced less impact resulting from their symptoms on their everyday lives. They have improved certainty about their future, evidenced through including maintaining social relationships and improved self-confidence.

There are ad hoc examples of dance groups around the country helping people with Parkinson’s disease, but Dr Houston now says more independent dance professionals, as well as health and social work services, should consider running regular classes to support people with the disease.

Download the report here
More on ENB’s Dance for Parkinson’s programme:

Photo: Dr Sara Houston, with members of an ENB Dance for Parkinson’s group by Mike Massaro

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