The idea for the Dance for Wellness/Parkinson’s Dance Therapy class, offered as one of community dance outreach classes through Owensboro Dance Theatre, began several years prior to its first class in 2017.
While attending an out-of-town performance, Owensboro Dance Theatre’s Managing Artistic Director Joy Johnson observed the impact of dance on individuals with Parkinson’s disease.
She returned to her home studio, Johnson’s Dance Studio, and met with other directors and dance instructors to research and create a program that would fit into ODT’s community outreach.
During her research, dance instructor Jennie Boggess learned that previously, individuals with Parkinson’s disease were told to immediately cease activity and prepare for a life of debilitating symptoms that would ultimately result in a bed-ridden state.
“However, research in the last 10 years has shown that this is the absolute worse plan of action for individuals with Parkinson’s disease,” Boggess said. “Movement is extremely important in staving off the progression of the disease.”
In early 2017, Boggess attended training and received certification from the Dance for PD program, a dance program created specifically for individuals with Parkinson’s disease from artists in the Mark Morris Dance Group in Brooklyn, NY.
ODT began offering the class at Owensboro Center for Rehabilitation with a focus strictly on individuals with Parkinson’s disease. While teaching, Bogess said there were many participants with Parkinson’s disease; however, it also became apparent that an impact was being made on participants with a broader range of health conditions.
“Dance has been demonstrated to improve memory and cognition by 67 percent, a massive improvement when compared to all other activities studied resulted in an improvement under 10 percent,” Boggess said. “Because dance stimulates all areas of the brain, it provides a unique opportunity for the brain and body to stay fluid, strong, and healthy as possible.”
After a year of teaching the Parkinson’s Dance Therapy classes, ODT received a request from Wellington Parc, an Owensboro facility that specializes in caring for adults with Alzheimer’s disease, to bring the program to their facility. ODT added this to their outreach program along with classes at Mount St. Joseph and Johnson’s Dance Studio.
Boggess said that this class is unique in that it meets the dancer where their ability is and provides the enjoyment of dance regardless any hurdles they may be facing medically.
“There is a quote I love to use for this program,‘You don’t stop dancing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop dancing.’” Boggess said. “It doesn’t matter whether some of the dancers are in their 60s or 90s, they all dance like teenagers when given the freedom to express themselves through movement.”
The curriculum is designed by Boggess and is ever changing to keep the classes feeling fresh for the dancers, but it is based on combinations that keep the dancer moving while focusing on improving memory, cognition, muscle strength and flexibility. The classes also incorporate a variety of dance techniques and terms from ballet to tap and modern dance.
Classes are provided free of charge to participants as part of ODT’s Triple A outreach, Arts Access for All. The program relies strictly on grant funding and sponsorship support. Owensboro Health Community Investments Program, Independence Bank, Kentucky Foundation for Women, the Marilyn & William Young Charitable Foundation, Women’s Guild of Owensboro and Lester E. Yeager Charitable Trust currently provide sponsorship for the program, but Boggess said that to continue the classes and reach more community members, they are always looking for new sponsors.
Boggess said that the participants work tirelessly to make it through each day despite their disease and dance gives them the opportunity to “soar” by improving self-esteem, social interactions, confidence, strength flexibility, cognition and emotional health.
“These classes allow dance to be shared across the community regardless of ability, health condition, economic standing, age, culture and more,” Boggess said. “There are no limits to what dance can bring to someone’s life — a smile can change a life or a whole family’s life and just one movement — a stretch, a kick, a reach or even the Macarena can change a person’s outlook on their life and bring joy back in to their hearts for a period of time. Seeing the impact made from dance on the lives of these individuals is the best part of teaching these classes.”
Classes are offered at Johnson’s Dance Studio every Wednesday from 10 to 11 a.m. The studio is located at 2705 Breckenridge St. and more information can be found on their website.