Dancing On, Despite Parkinson’s

By Amy Forman

Published November 30, 2015, issue of November 19, 2015.

Every one can dance, even those with Parkinson’s Disease. That is the fundamental premise of a dance group for Parkinson’s disease patients, their family members and caregivers offered by Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JF&CS).

The JF&CS Parkinson’s Family Support Program has been offering education and arts based therapeutic programming to people with Parkinson’s Disease (a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that affects the motor system) and their caregivers for the past eight years out of its Waltham location, and is now set to offer two free demonstrations on the North Shore, of the Parkinson’s Dance Group, an innovative and highly acclaimed program that began in New York with the Mark Morris Dance Group. The first program will be held on Sunday, November 22, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore, 4 Community Rd., Marblehead. The second program will be held on Sunday, December 6, from 11 a.m.-noon at the Danvers Community YMCA, 34 Pickering St., Danvers.

Dance instructor Art Sullivan, who has trained with Mark Morris, choreographs all types of styles of dance to a wide variety of music, from Lady Gaga to Louis Armstrong. “I have been trained to work with people with Parkinson’s, and I am familiar with their issues,” said Sullivan, adding that no partner is needed, and that the program is designed for success whether completed seated or standing. “The idea is to keep them moving, to improve their movement, to increase their range of motion, improve their balance, and to give them confidence. But mostly what I work on is having fun.”

Participant Gil Aliber of Wellesley, who began coming to the group at his wife’s instance soon after he was diagnosed, has been doing just that: “I quickly learned to feel safe and comfortable with an extraordinary group of people. I have always exercised, and when I dance in this group I feel that it helps me maintain my physical abilities, which is so important when you have PD. Here, I am empowered by my fellow dancers and it makes me happy and grateful to come, because people understand. I feel hopeful because every week I’m with people who feel hopeful, and I’m not isolated.”

Both demonstrations and informational sessions will offer families on the North Shore the opportunity to experience this unique and proven approach to improving quality of life while living with Parkinson’s disease. The free programs are available to everyone regardless of faith or religious background, and if there is sufficient community interest and need, JF&CS will plan on offering the Parkinson’s group dance program on a regular basis on the North Shore.

“The Parkinson’s Dance program at JF&CS exemplifies the best vision of what a community that dances together can achieve – engagement, creativity, confidence, exploration and enjoyment,” said David Leventhal, director of Dance for PD for the Mark Morris Dance Group.

Pre-registration for these free programs is recommended by contacting Art Sullivan at 781-693-5069 or asullivan@jfcsboston.org. For Parkinson’s Family Support at JF&CS, call 781-647-5327.


According to the National Parkinson Foundation, symptoms of Parkinson’s disease vary from person to person and change over time.

The four main motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are:

Slowness of movement.

This symptom makes it harder to initiate and perform physical actions such as getting out of bed, buttoning a shirt or even speech. 

Involuntary shaking, or tremor at rest. 

Tremor usually occurs in the hands, but it can also appear in other parts of the body, including the lower lip, jaw or leg. This symptom usually improves when a person starts performing tasks or using the limb in some way.

Stiffness of the arms, legs or trunk.

Muscles feel unusually tight, stiff or achy. This symptom can occur on one side or both sides of the body.

Trouble with balance and falls, also called postural instability.

A person with postural instability will have problems with walking, balance and turning around. Falls may occur without explanation. Postural instability isn’t usually present with diagnosis, but it’s one of the most common and troublesome symptoms that happens later on.

Visit Parkinson.org.

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