Weekly, I provide Latin dance and exercise classes at a local elder care facility. Over the past two months a former Pilates instructor now living at the home for elders has joined the regular classes. Her name is Roseanne and she’s been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Walking nearly bent over in half with the help of a walker, she has wide, blue eyes that always seem ready for engagement.
Roseanne is quiet and keeps to herself, but when she’s in class she is very attentive and focused, doing her best to execute all the movements I’m facilitating.
We experiment with various “crossing the mid line” exercises, which stimulate the brain in different ways and challenge participants coordination, like crossing the hands over each other and doing criss cross movements with our feet. Though these exercises may seem simple, they can be quite challenging.
One day, after a particular class last month, I saw Roseanne on her way to lunch.
“How’s everything going Roseanne? Are you enjoying the classes?” I asked.
“Oh yes, I am,” she said in her soft and slightly shaky voice. “You know, that exercise where we cross our feet? I couldn’t even do that in class the other day. You see, I have Parkinson’s and sometimes those kinds of exercises are hard for me to do. But I was trying it in my room last week and I was able to do it! I think this is helping my Parkinson’s.”
I was stunned! I never thought it would help improve someone’s motor skills who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
Recently, my mom gave me an article about how tango dancing has been shown to help people with Parkinson’s disease. This inspired me greatly. Though I don’t teach tango, I do teach various Latin dances of the Caribbean, like salsa, bachata, and merengue. These dances are similar to the tango because they are based on learning certain coordinated steps that relate to the rhythm of the music. It requires a lot of mental focus and concentration to coordinate the footwork with the upper body all while in relationship to the music. If tango could help people with Parkinson’s, why not salsa? And here I was seeing it first hand.
As if this little discovery wasn’t good enough, I received another affirmative nugget last week. Several weeks had gone by since the first conversation with Roseanne. Curious about any further development, I asked her how it was going after class last week.
“It’s going well,” she said to me. “You know, it’s hard for people with Parkinson’s to put on their socks. But I noticed with that exercise you teach us in lifting up the hip on one side, that it actually helps me to put my socks on better. I can lift up the hip and quickly slip a sock on. It’s really helpful.”
I smiled inside and out. “Wow, that’s great Roseanne. I’m so happy to hear that! Can I quote you on that? I want people to know about the results you’re having!”
“Oh, sure,” she said with a sincere tone in her voice.
I’m so grateful for contributing to our community in this simple, fun, and profound way.
Just the other day, after our exercise class, Roseanne said that all her back pain was gone. “When I came in I had this back pain, but now it’s all gone (after exercising).”
I’d love to talk about how I can work with you and your staff or residents through dance and exercise classes, otherwise knows as Latin Dance Parties. Please contact me here to talk more.
And remember, no matter how old you are, keep on dancing! It’s great for every part of you.