The Benefits of Dance for Parkinson’s Disease

Dancing with Parkinson’s coming to Tucson

by Magdalena Kaczmarska

Photo Credit: Katsuyoshi Tanaka

On a balmy February day in Brooklyn, a large sunlit dance studio slowly fills with a diverse group of men and women. On the outside they do not seem to have anything in common, however, there is something that unifies them. They have Parkinson’s disease. Some come with their friends, spouses, partners or caregivers. Others come alone. As they take off their shoes, jackets and scarves, deposit their belonging in the corners and settle into one of the chairs set out in a sun-burst pattern on the floor, the telltale signs of Parkinson’s are apparent: hands that shake, muscles that stiffen, heads that stoop. Some, reluctant to participate, gravitate toward the corner, or slouch in a wheelchair. A musician enters and sits at the piano. A dancer sits in a chair in the middle of the sunburst, his colleague across from him. With gentle guidance, he begins leading the group through a warm up consisting of a modified sun-salutation, arms widening from the shoulders, scooping up, palms and eyes meeting above the head, connected palms and arms diving down. The group follows, symptoms, at the moment, appear to slip away. The group is beginning their dance class. It’s called Dance for PD®.

Dance for PD® was created over ten years ago in collaboration between Brooklyn-based internationally renown modern dance company, Mark Morris Dance Group and Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group. The dance classes are designed specifically for individuals with Parkinson’s to practice the myriad ways in which dance is particularly beneficial for people with PD.

Why dance for PD?

Many people, when hearing the words dance or dance class, respond with incredulity, reluctance, even fear. Many have been conditioned to think of dance as an elitist art form and endeavor reserved for a select group of professional individuals. “Our society tells us again and again that there are people who can dance and there’s everybody else, who shouldn’t even bother. And I think that is such a tragedy.” (David Leventhal, former Mark Morris Dance Group company member and founder of Dance for PD®). Dance for PD® was designed under the belief that dance and movement is everybody’s right.

Photo Credit: Johan Henckens/MMDG

Dance, as an activity, is perfectly suited for individuals with Parkinson’s:

  • Dance develops flexibility and instills confidence.
  • Because of its inherent mind-body connection, dance builds body and spatial awareness while emphasizing rhythm, thereby assisting in gait and balance.
  • In a fun way, dance trains and challenges the mind to learn complex and new phrases and concepts, which increases memory, builds focus and multi-tasking skills.
  • Dance for PD introduces the freedom of play and imagination through creative combinations, adapted choreography and structured and guided improvisation.
  • Dance for PD develops a sense of unity and community.
  • Dance for PD creates a judgment free, accepting and supportive environment designed to explore individuality through self-defined challenges.
  • Dancing is fun and brings joy.
  • Dance for PD is NOT therapy – each participant can bring to the class their own personal goals, ideals or desires. As class member, Reggie Butz stated, “When the dance class is going on, there are no patients. There are dancers.”

What does a class look like?

Class is usually held in a dance room, although any large room with a smooth floor, or short carpet also works.

The class begins seated in chairs arranged in a circle, if the class is small, or in a sunburst pattern (concentric circles). The chairs are far enough away from one another, or staggered to allow each participant to move freely without the fear of hitting anyone. Depending on the size of the room, the instructor(s) will either sit on one end of the circle, or in the middle in two chairs facing one another to allow each half of the room to have full view of the exercises at all times.

The class begins by slowly and gradually awakening and warming up the body, mind and voice while seated. About halfway into the class, participants transition to standing, using the chair or ballet barres for one- or two-handed assistance in balance. After this, chairs are cleared away and the class is guided through a few rhythmic exercises across the floor.

Everyone is encouraged to participate. If individuals prefer to stay seated the entire class, seats are left around the perimeter of the room, or classes are adjusted to accommodate these participants.

Who can participate?

ANYONE! Anyone who has Parkinson’s is of course welcome, but partners, spouses, friends, caregivers are also encouraged to come and participate. Anyone interested in learning more about the program or in volunteering is also invited to attend and participate.

Who are the teachers?

Teachers who are qualified to teach Dance for PD® classes, are professional dancers and dance teachers who have been accepted into the teacher training program at Mark Morris Dance Center. After completing the training, teachers are allowed to teach in the style of Dance for PDÒ. After teaching a certain number of hours and completing a certification, they can use the trademarked logo.

Magdalena Kaczmarska, Karenne Koo and Tegan McKenzie, through the vehicle of Evolve Dance~West, are bringing Dancing with Parkinson’s classes to Tucson starting March 2014.  Dance with Parkinson’s classes are modeled on the Dance for PDÒ classes created by Mark Morris Dance Group/Brooklyn Parkinson Group.

About the Teachers:

Magdalena Kaczmarska

Magda was accepted into and completed the Dance for PDÒ teacher training in Brooklyn, NY Feb 2013. She is a Tucson-based dancer, trained in classical ballet and Polish folk dance, and is an established dance and movement teacher in the Tucson community, on faculty at BreakOut Studios and Animas Studio. She is currently applying to the University of Arizona to pursue an MFA in Dance Performance and Choreography.

Karenne Koo

One of the founding members of Evolve Dance Inc., Karenne is trained in Mettler-based creative dance movement. She dances ballet, modern and hula. Karenne is scheduled to receive teacher training in Dance for PDÒ Spring 2014.

Tegan McKenzie

Trained at the Alvin Ailey School in New York, NY, Tegan has extensive experience in modern, jazz, and ballet. She is also in the process of completing her mat and reformer/Cadillac Pilates certification. She teaches dance and Pilates and performs dance in Tucson.

Evolve Dance~West

Evolve Dance~West, the Tucson-based, professional performing arts company of Evolve Dance Inc. is committed to sharing the experience of participatory movement and dance within Southern Arizona communities. Evolve Dance~West seeks to encourage a collaborative environment of artistic creativity where each individual can be the creative energy and force.


When is the class?

The first class is scheduled for:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

2:30-4:00 pm

Click here to download our flyer

Where is the class?

Animas Center
5575 East River Road
Suite 121
Tucson, AZ 85750
(River Center Plaza, NE corner River and Craycroft)

Please call (520) 989-0766 to register

Is there a fee?

No. The class is FREE.


For more information contact Magdalena Kaczmarska at or attend the Power Over Parkinson’s (POP) Conference at the Tucson Jewish Community Center, Saturday, February 22, 2014.





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