The Annenberg Center’s new artist-in-residence explores the power of dance to ease the symptoms of Parkinson’s
Penn is combating the devastating effects of Parkinson’s disease on an unlikely battleground: the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. It’s there that Parkinson’s patients are endeavoring to dance their way toward fuller lives.
Dance for PD® is the non-profit collaboration between the Brooklyn Parkinson Group and the Annenberg Center’s first Artist in Residence, the acclaimed Mark Morris, founder of the Mark Morris Dance Group. In February, the program invited patients from Penn’s Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center to work through their motor function challenges by employing the deliberate and practiced movements of dance.
“Dance for PD® is such a powerful expression of Penn’s commitment to advancing knowledge for good,” says Lynn Jerath, W’95, Penn Trustee and Overseer on the Annenberg Center Board. “It’s a surprising approach that has real, tangible benefits and calls upon many disciplines to work together collaboratively to increase the overall health of Parkinson’s sufferers. I can’t think of a better example of the performing arts directly affecting a life. It’s so important to support the arts, and that support becomes even more essential when it fundamentally changes people’s lives for the better.”
Since the inception of Dance for PD®, at least 38 peer-reviewed studies have confirmed that the heightened focus and intentionality of dancing significantly increases the quality of life for Parkinson’s patients. Today, classes are offered in countries throughout the world. “One of the main reasons for the program’s success is that it helps alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s while also creating a community for people who truly need it,” says David Leventhal, dance instructor for the Mark Morris Dance Group. “Maybe more than other afflictions, there’s a tendency for Parkinson’s patients to isolate. We give them a means to connect with peers and unite around a common goal.”
According to Mark Morris, another valuable component of the program is the music. “We prefer to have live music in our classes whenever possible,” he says. “It really strengthens the connection and everyone’s ability to be present in the moment.”
Dance for PD® integrates seamlessly with the Annenberg Center’s core belief in the power of the performing arts to change lives and reinforces its Campaign priority of a deeper integration of the performing arts across disciplines and within the Penn community.