How A Boise Dance Class Is Helping Parkinson's Patients Find Therapeutic Movement

Sep 29, 2014

Dancers in Elizabeth Kellers Ballet for Parkinson's Disease Class
Credit Jodie Martinson / Boise State Public Radio

Elizabeth Keller has trained her body to be completely stable even while standing on her tip toes. She's performed with Boise's best dancers as part of the Trey McIntyre Project and now with Ballet Idaho. But her passion these days is for helping people who shake because of Parkinson's disease find fluidity through dance.  

"What better way to use everything that I love, everything I'm passionate about to help the Parkinson's community. If they -- for an hour and a half of their week -- are no longer a Parkinson's patient, and they're simply a dance student, that's great," Keller says.

Each Monday, Keller steps about a dozen students and their caregivers through a series of seated yoga moves, modern dance, and ballet. 

Richard Smith has noticed a difference. He's had Parkinson's for about nine years. 

Richard Smith strikes a pose.
Credit Jodie Martinson / Boise State Public Radio

"In the evenings now, I'm putting music on and trying to do that very-loose-leaves-falling-out-of-a-tree movement," Smith says. "I think it's helping."

Smith explained having Parkinson's makes him feel like he's in a pool of mercury or something heavier than water that slows him down. His joints feel like they have rods sticking through them.

"So it's that rigidity that makes movement much, much more difficult," he says.

When Keller first began teaching the class, she noticed moving seem to help steady her students' tremors.

"Something as simple as a resting tremor went away when they put intention into the movement," she explained. "They were in control of their body."

Get a sense of Keller's class with this short clip we recorded.

Sondra Shyrock's husband Arnold accompanies her to the class. They used to dance swing and other styles together before the Parkinson's symptoms showed up in his wife.

"Sondra had extremely long red hair that went below her hips," Arnold remembered. "It was so fun to watch her twirl because her hair would go way out."

Arnold's watching her again, and admiring the other class participants for how hard they try.

"All these people started out so slow in the dance. And as the class went on the movements got bigger and more spontaneous," he says.

As Sondra danced with the others going around in a circle, she caught the eye of her husband and caretaker. 

"He's pretty special for me," she says.

The Dance for Parkinson's Disease class is on Mondays from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. at 501 S 8th Street in Boise. More information can be found here.  ​ 

Find Jodie Martinson on Twitter @JodieMartinson

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