English National Ballet Dance for Parkinson’s research revealed by Roehampton academics

A four year study into the success of the English National Ballet’s Dance for Parkinson’s programme, undertaken by academics from the University’s Department of Dance, has found organised dancing offers those with the condition a physical activity which resonates deeply on intellectual, social, and emotional levels.

Posted: 28 October 2015

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Dr Sara Houston and Ashley McGill from the Department of Dance have been researching the effects of dancing on people suffering from Parkinson's Disease.
The English National Ballet has led dance classes in London, Oxford, Liverpool, Ipswich and Cardiff since 2011. Dr Sara Houston and Ashley McGill from the University have worked with participants in the capital to carry out biomechanical measurements and used questionnaires, extensive interviews, observations, focus groups, and film footage to assess the benefits of the programme.

After speaking on BBC Breakfast yesterday morning (27 October) about the findings, the pair revealed the full results of the study during a conference at Sadler’s Wells Theatre. The results, published in this report suggest dance activity:
  • helps people with Parkinson’s to have a physically and socially-active lifestyle.
  • encourages a feeling of capability, aiding fluency of movement, postural stability, and decreases the amount of temporary freezing, despite progression of disease. 
  • is a challenging mental workout.
  • offers a community of support through dance, nurturing positive attitudes to the future and a sense of independence.
  • helps people with Parkinson’s to stay motivated, and maintain or improve other non-motor aspects of daily life. 
Dr Houston and Ms McGill’s work also showed participants consistently experienced less impact resulting from their symptoms on their everyday lives. They have improved certainty about their future, evidenced through including maintaining social relationships and improved self-confidence.

Dr Houston said: “By talking to the dance group members and scientifically recording their movements, we’ve found improved quality of life has become evident. Dancing has really helped them deal with their disease and by coming together regularly they have been able to support each other. Some Parkinson’s support groups can feel depressing, but we’ve found dancing together has been a positive experience because members have focussed on dancing and not on the disease.

“The physical activity has created mental challenges as well – dancing requires a lot of multi-tasking from the brain so it keeps the mind active, which is hugely important. Dancing also keeps muscles loose, and with Parkinson’s Disease they can stiffen up very easily, so the regular movement helps muscle tone and means the dancers get used to dealing with balancing and moving in different ways.”

There are ad hoc examples of dance groups around the country helping people with Parkinson’s disease, but Dr Houston now says more independent dance professionals, as well as health and social work services, should consider running regular classes to support people with the disease.

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