Recognizing the Therapeutic Benefits of Dance

Dance is a great form of exercise that can also be a great way to stay social–two important lifestyle factors we often cite in our Successful Aging & Your Brain program for maintaining better brain health. But it offers additional therapeutic opportunities for those with movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, which can affect functional mobility and mood.

Dance for PD, launched in Brooklyn in 2001, offers specialized dance classes for Parkinson’s patients to address some of the disease’s symptoms. Though small in scale, published peer-reviewed studies on the program have reported improvement in areas such as gait, mobility, and even mood. The popularity of the program has led to its expansion to 25 countries.

Medical treatments and therapies aren’t often something one enjoys, but the creative expression, music, and social connections can make dance therapy seem less like work and more like fun.

Two recent “On the Mind” events I attended, one focused on Parkinson’s disease and the other on Huntington’s disease (another progressive movement disorder), presented research on dance therapy, but also showcased the dance talents of people with those diseases, who went beyond dance classes to join performance groups. In the clip below, Manny Torrijos, who has Parkinson’s, dances with Erin Landers, his partner from the Dnaga dance company, based out of Oakland.

For those who don’t want to join a troupe or dance with a partner, preliminary studies have shown there may be even be benefits to playing Dance Dance Revlolution, an interactive video game that gained popularity in the early 2000s, which choreographs dances for the player to perform (“sight-dance”) on the spot. As I previously reported from the Huntington’s event, Greg Youdan, a PhD. candidate at Columbia University delivered some detail:

Youdan cited a small study with 18 participants with mid-stage HD who played the active video game Dance Dance Revolution as a potential exercise therapy. At the end of six weeks, the participants improved their game scores and also their ability to walk. To top it off, they enjoyed the experiment and wanted to continue playing the game even after the study ended.

So, as we celebrate #International Dance Day today, keep in mind the many benefits that dance can bring, as an art form, cultural expression, exercise, and therapy.

– Ann L. Whitman

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