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Class demonstrates the rehabilitative powers of dance

Betty and Lowell Hill practice at the barre during the Dance for Parkinson╒s class April 16. The Hills have participated in the classes since they began several years ago, and say the movements are therapeutic for those who suffer from neurological conditions.
Photo by
L. Brian Stauffer

Physical challenges  Betty and Lowell Hill practice at the barre during the Dance for Parkinson╒s class April 16. The Hills have participated in the classes since they began several years ago, and say the movements are therapeutic for those who suffer from neurological conditions.

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INSIDE ILLINOIS, May 6, 2010  | Anna K. Herkamp, Assistant Editor | 217-333-5491

Urbana resident Tauby Shimkin, 77, was able to walk without a cane for the first time in six years shortly after beginning a UI program aimed at helping people with disorders such as hers.

Shimkin, who has lived with peripheral neuropathy for years, followed instructors seemingly without effort as she participated in the Dance for Parkinson’s class April 16.

Self confidence Kate Kuper, a visiting lecturer in the department of dance, leads Dance for Parkinson╒s class participants in seated exercises. Kuper said the aesthetic workout promotes a sense of self.

Kate Kuper, a visiting lecturer in the department of dance, leads Dance for Parkinson╒s class participants in seated exercises. Kuper said the aesthetic workout promotes a sense of self. | Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Watching her at the barre with other students in class, it’s hard to imagine her depending on a cane.

“I had a hard time with balance,” she said. “This is good for my balance.”

She began the program this year and says the combination of coordinated movement and a non-clinical, fun atmosphere makes the class much different from other rehabilitative programs she had tried.

“I love the class,” she said.

After she began attending the classes, she amazed herself.

One exercise involves students gracefully gliding from one end of the classroom to the other in the basement of Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

“I found myself in the middle of the floor – delightfully surprised,” she said.

For the past eight years, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts has teamed with the Mark Morris Dance Group, whose Midwest home is the UI, as well as Unity Parkinson’s Disease Support Group, Carle Clinic and Dance at Illinois to put together a workshop that was first aimed at therapeutic dance classes for patients with Parkinson’s Disease, but is now open to anyone who’d like to participate.

Instructors Marianne Jarvi and Kate Kuper, a visiting lecturer in the department of dance, have trained with the Mark Morris Dance group to be instructors for the class.

Along with traditional dance class exercises at the barre, the class includes sitting position movements that isolate specific areas of the body, stretches and simple coordinated choreographed movement.

Retired UI agricultural economics professor Lowell Hill and his wife, Betty – both in their 80s – have participated in the classes since they began. Lowell Hill said the movement is good for coordination and muscle strengthening. Betty, who has Parkinson’s, says the classes benefit her a great deal.

“I think it forces me to exercise,” she said.

 Other class participants have friends or relatives with Parkinson’s or other disorders.

Ida Parsons was visiting the class with a family member. Parsons, who is from Canada, has a friend with Parkinson’s. As a former nurse, Parsons marveled at the class’s ability to help the patients overcome their physical challenges to perform the moves.

“It gets you out of yourself,” she said.

Jarvi normally works with children in the Creative Dance for Children program on the weekends.

She says while working with older adults, she sees dramatic changes in them as a result of the classes. Some who have tremors briefly stop the shaking as they follow the dance movement.

“They have a moment of release,” she said.

Kuper directs the Creative Dance for Children program. She calls Dance for Parkinson’s an “aesthetic” workout.

“It promotes a good sense of self,” she said, as it helps each patient use the movement to strengthen their mental abilities and have fun working with others like them.

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