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Dance program aims to slow effects of Parkinson’s disease


  • By Rebecca Leftwich
  • |
  • Jan. 07, 2018 - 2:04 AM

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Dance program aims to slow effects of Parkinson’s disease

Rebecca Leftwich / The Newnan Times-Herald

Judith Furlong simulates shooting an arrow at a target during warmups for a Dance for Parkinson’s class.

Over the years, many studies have shown dance to have therapeutic effects on mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, and now a dance program specifically targeted at slowing the effects of Parkinson’s disease is proving successful in Newnan as well.

At Southern Arc Dance Center, Paulo Manso de Sousa teaches two Dance for Parkinson’s classes a week. The classes are based on a program developed by Mark Morris Dance Group in New York, which built the program on the fundamental premise that “professionally trained dancers are movement experts whose knowledge is useful to people with (Parkinson’s disease).”

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects the brain’s production of dopamine. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, symptoms of the disease – which has no known cause – develop slowly over a period of years and can include slowed movements, rigid limbs, and problems with gait and balance.

Treatment options include medication and surgery, but there is no known cure. Parkinson’s is not fatal, but complications from the disease are the 14th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Exercise can relieve some motor symptoms of PD by modifying areas of the brain where dopamine signals are received, in addition to improving overall health, medical experts say. However, people with PD often are equally impacted by non-motor symptoms such as apathy, depression, constipation, sleep disorders, loss of sense of smell and cognitive impairment.

Dance for Parkinson’s was created to address aspects of both motor and non-motor symptoms of the disease, which was part of the appeal for Manso de Sousa, whose studio is one of only two in Georgia offering certified instructor-led Dance for Parkinson’s classes. Manso de Sousa – a world-renowned dancer and instructor – traveled to Brooklyn to train in Dance for Parkinson’s at Mark Morris Dance Company so he could bring the classes to Southern Arc Dance Center.

“I try to find opportunities for people to dance,” said Manso de Sousa, who has taught and choreographed for dancers of all ages and skill levels, including those confined to wheelchairs and missing limbs. “I did it as an art, and I was lucky to do it as a career. I believe everybody can dance, and really want to give something to the community.”

The program was developed after a former dancer was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and came back to take dance classes at the Mark Morris Dance Group to help with her symptoms instead of choosing more typical physical therapy. Dance for Parkinson’s classes specifically address balance, flexibility, coordination, isolation and depression by using narrative, imagery, music and socialization.

“Unlike therapy when they’re doing constant movement, and they are much more cognizant to the physical aspects, the class is poetic and musical and keeps their minds involved,” Manson de Sousa said. “When they’re in therapy, they’re curing their disease. When they’re in dance class, they’re having fun, joking with each other … it’s a social event.”

Don Chapman has attended classes at Southern Arc since Manso de Sousa began offering them last year.

“I very much enjoy the class and think Paulo is a great motivator for all of us,” Chapman said. “It keeps us moving and is not too strenuous, which is very good in my opinion. I highly recommend the class to anyone, not just us with PD.”

Southern Arc’s Dance for Parkinson’s classes are offered Mondays from 7-8 p.m. and Tuesdays from 10-11 a.m. Anyone interested can try one class for free and each class is $5 after that. “Care partners” are encouraged to participate in class at no charge, Manso de Sousa said. 

“If you’re a care partner, it’s not very exciting to just drop them off and sit around waiting for an hour,” he said. “We want you to come in and participate, to share the experience and have some fun.”

For more information, call Southern Arc Dance Center at 770-683-3724, email info@southernarcdance.org or visit the studio at 40 Greenway Court in Newnan.