Watching the participants arrive at the National Dance Company Wales’ Studio in Cardiff Bay for their Dance for Parkinson’s class you wouldn’t immediately think of a dance troupe. Especially as one gentleman turns up in a wheelchair sporting a sweatshirt with the legend “I don’t float like a butterfly or sting like a bee but I’ve got Parkinson’s like Muhammad Ali”. But in fact a dance troupe is exactly what you should be thinking.
Parkinson’s affects all people differently but as it advances it usually becomes increasingly more debilitating and impacts on the person’s whole body, including their face and speech.
The classes were originally piloted in London where the English National Ballet worked with Roehampton University. The three year study proved the positive impact of the programme for people with Parkinson’s, supporting their confidence and strength and even relieving some of their symptoms temporarily.
In partnership with English National Ballet, National Dance Company Wales has been delivering classes to a Welsh audience in Cardiff for the last two years. Now with the help of a £5,000 award from the National Lottery Awards for All programme, National Dance Company Wales are extending their classes to Blackwood, South Wales.
There are two teachers, Yvette Wilson, who leads the dance and movement and Helen Woods a voice coach and the group’s pianist, they are supported by volunteers. Helen brings fun and music to the session but Yvette is its soul – she doesn’t just teach the group to move, she makes the repertoire come to life and suddenly this isn’t a group of people with a medical condition this is a studio full of dancers.
“We are doing Romeo and Juliet this term,” Geraldine, one of the project volunteers, tells me at the beginning of the session and before long everyone is hiding behind their hands being the teenage Juliet playing with her friends and then becoming Romeo showing off as he demonstrates his fencing skills. They practise gurning with Helen and then into pairs for barre work. The session is good natured and fun, there is no embarrassment. The impact on people’s movement is radical.
Participant Roger tells me, “I have seen people get up out of their wheelchairs and walk the length of the room, not always, but more than once. This is the only form of physio my wife won’t miss, all the others she says – let’s not go, but she won’t miss this for anything”.
Gareth Williams, Funding Manager on the National Lottery Awards for All programme said: “This project not only has a direct and incredibly positive impact on the people with Parkinson’s but also on their partners and carers who may feel isolated in their caring role – it’s quite clear how much they get from the sessions as well.”
Paul Kaynes, Chief Executive of the National Dance Company Wales added:
“Dance is such an inspirational art form and our Dance for Parkinson’s programme demonstrates this week in, week out. We have seen the benefits and joy that participants have derived from being part of this programme, and we’re delighted this has been recognised by National Lottery Community Fund, which will help us develop and expand our programme.”
All photography ©Billie Charity