Jeffrey Wilson, 72, and his wife Sandra, were center stage Wednesday. All eyes were on the couple, who soon will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, as Wilson led his wife hand-in-hand across the floor to a ballad playing on dance instructor Tracie DeLuca’s computer.
The couple is one of eight attending a brand-new dance class for those with Parkinson’s disease that began in April at Westminster Canterbury Lynchburg.
The Wilson’s have attended every class even though they are not residents of Westminster Canterbury. They plan to move into the facility in about a year or so.
Wilson has been living with Parkinson’s for seven years now and said he is diligent in doing exercise everyday to slow down the progression of thedisease.
He said the class helps to release dopamine in his body and helps him with balance, flexibility and fatigue.
“We speak a similar language,” he said of the other dancers. “We’re going through similar things.”
Wilson jokes that the class, held once a week on Wednesdays, is the couple’s date night.
“That’s not right,” Sandra Wilson interjects. “We fished all last weekend. We’re still having a good time.”
The class is open to the public as well as residents at Westminster. No experience is necessary and participants can join the free class at any time.
DeLuca is an independent contractor for the facility. She is the owner of LifeLines by Tracie, a dance company. She teaches in different locations around the area.
Prior to teaching this class, she stumbled across a video of those diagnosed with Parkinson’s gait patterns with and without dance.
She started looking into it and studying because she was looking for new ways to bring value to her classes.
Parkinson’s is a chronic and progressive movement disorder that affects the nervous system. According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, there are 1 million people in the United States living with it.
Symptoms vary greatly but predominantly include tremors, trouble with balance, stiff muscles and difficulty walking. It eventually can lead to dementia.
Earlier this year Denise Sarver Watts, wellness coordinator at Westminster Canterbury, approached DeLuca and asked her if she was interested in teaching a program for those with Parkinson’s at the facility.
Westminster offers an exercise treatment program for those with Parkinson’s and Watts thought the addition of a dance class could be beneficial to residents.
She said she doesn’t know how many residents living at Westminster have Parkinson’s but she takes a group of them to the support group meetings held at the Summit.
The dance program is modeled after the official Dance for PD class created by the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group about 20 years ago.
The class is specialized for those with Parkinson’s to empower them toembrace music and movement in a way that is stimulating and creative.
Movements help with strengthening, stretching, flexibility, balance and most importantly isolation and depression.
“To be able to do something that is fun and wonderful and fosters that sense of support and care and community in a really joyful way,” DeLucasaid. “If you have Parkinson’s you have plenty of time to be a patient and go to therapy. This is a dance class. It is about the sheer joy of dancing.”
The class, which consists of about eight people each week, begins with yoga-like stretches in a chair but as the class continues, dancers begin to pull themselves out of their chairs as their bodies flow to the familiar 1940s and 1950s music.
DeLuca noted the entire class can be done in the chairif need be.
She said the most humbling part of her job is watching a participant who is in a wheelchair or has a leg brace stand up and begin dancing and when she sees the joy on their faces.
A disease such as Parkinson’s makes the patient’s world very small but for one hour, the dancers can forget about the pain, the appointments and the symptoms, she said.
“If they don’t get anything out of it except a joyful experience, then that works for me,” DeLuca said.
Watts said dancing with Parkinson’s has a positive effect on mental well-being and improves movement, balance and social interaction.
A group at Northwestern University conducted a study in 2018 where they found dancing with Parkinson’s improves motor control, helps balance, reduces the risk of falling and improves the overall quality of life. It has a number of benefits from emotional to cognitive to social stimulation.
“I’ve seen a lot of people doing things I hadn’t seen them do before and I hear them singing during class as well,” she said. “I saw someone get out of his wheelchair and dance with his wife.”
In an effort to say, “I see you,” and, “You matter,” DeLuca ends each class with participants gathering in a circle to hold hands and simply look at the person to their right and to bow their head in acknowledgement.
“We are a community, we’re in this together, we care about each other, we have fun together,” she said. “Just that moment of recognition and connection with each person as a part of the group is a really special thing.”
At the end of Wednesday’s class, DeLuca had the participants cool down in their chairs by stretching. She turned on“Sentimental Journey” by Doris Day and participant Bob Wilson closed his eyes as he began to stretch and sing along.
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