Did You Know of This Pune Based Dance Program For People with Parkinson’s Disease?

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Pune based Hrishikesh Centre for Contemporary Dance has been successfully running a Dance Program for people with Parkinson’s Disease since 2009. Here is a photo feature on how it can help.

Mrs Lele finds it hard to walk and put her foot forward in a normal, coordinated way — something many of us take for granted. Yet, you’ll find her taking an auto from her home to Hrishikesh Pawar’s dance studio every week to attend a specially designed dance program for people with Parkinson’s. The brainchild of dancer Hrishikesh Pawar, The Dance for Parkisnon’s program in Pune started because of a film Why Dance for PD by the Brooklyn based Mark Morris Dance Company. “We screened the film at Prayatna, a festival I started in Pune. The screening was attended by the Parkinson’s Mitra Mandal group and that’s how the program started here. It’s affiliated to the Dance for PD group and run in collaboration with the Sancheti Orthopedic Hospital, Pune,” Pawar says.

He wanted the space to be different from a rehab centre. “I did not want to use dance as therapy but wanted to help the community. for our people. I was always aware that it’s not going to be only PD patients. I’ll also have younger dancers. There has to be a philosophical teaching that runs parallel to performing arts. E.g., a young dancer takes his/her body for granted till something happens to it. Here they are sensitised to age and what happens to the body as we age. The format was largely remains the same. My class has dancers like Tarini, who is 8 and Chandu Kaku, a lady in her 50s. The young in my class know that they have to help. It’s an inclusive space where people just come and dance. The oldest here is 86, says Pawar.

It may look easy but even lifting a hand is tough task for many PD patients like Mrs Lele (In yellow) and Mr Joshi (extreme right)

The project has seen some long time enthusiasts. Mr Joshi, a gentleman in his 70s with Parkinson’s, has been part of it since beginning, notwithstanding a hip replacement surgery.


The program has a mix of generations with young dancers helping the old and creating a great vibe

We ask Pawar about improvement. “Just the fact that they come here everyday is an improvement. Even if we have a cold and cough we want to stay at home. They have Parkinson’s which still has a stigma in today’s society. Most of the people in the morning batch take local transport!” says Pawar, adding that their medication has remained stable despite PD being a degenerative disorder. The medicine intake was monitored through Sancheti Hospital. “Psychologically they are participating more, they are going out publicly, which is liberating. All this can be intimidating for somebody with PD. They have started performing on stage (see video below). The idea of the performance was to look at their cognitive responses.”

The inclusive classes have worked out well. Pawar believes it leads to the older people emulating the energy of the young and the young developing empathy for the old. The elders have even performed at the Prayatna festival. Kudos to these elders who have shown an amazing will to be active as much as they can, through a medium that appeals to us all — Dance!

To know more, contact: http://www.hrishikeshpawar.com or https://www.facebook.com/Hrishikeshs-Centre-Of-Contemporary-Dance-154432524599258/ 


Read excerpts from an older interview with David Leventhal, Program Director, Dance for PD from our archives on how Dance can help people with PD here:

1. For people living with PD, exercise is a vital component to maintaining a sense of balance & mobility. How does dance help in that regard?
Dance and exercise both address balance and mobility, but dance addresses those issues by teaching people how to think about them strategically and consciously.  Dancers spent their whole lives practicing ways to stay balanced and mobile, and in a good dance class, the teacher uses imagery, rhythm and technique cues to pass that information on.  Dance also has a high adherence rate–because it’s often more enjoyable than a straight exercise program, people come back week after week to work on their skills.
2. Does dance help in creating a more positive mindset in them?

Absolutely.  It’s important to remember that Parkinson’s is classified as a movement disorder, but it’s really a quality of life disorder.  Mood is affected, and depression is common.  People feel isolated from their former communities, and their relationships begin to change as their lives become defined by chronic disease.  In a dance class, the emphasis is on positive possibilities rather than on limits, and always on the joyful aspect of moving rather than trying to solve a problem.  The music is inspiring, and there are constant opportunities for playful interactions with other participants.  In quality of life surveys we’ve done, joy, confidence, self-esteem and social interaction are often mentioned as some of the most valuable benefits of the dance class.
3. What has been your first hand experience in conducting dance therapy for Parkinson’s Disease? Have you seen any visible benefits and improvements or positive reactions? Has there been any neurological assessment of dance therapy? 

Over time, people with PD become better dancers as a result of the class.  That’s quite an impressive achievement given the fact that Parkinson’s is a degenerative disorder–over time, it usually gets worse.  One of the satisfying things about teaching the class is that you see results instantaneously.  People might enter the studio with a fair amount of rigidity, immobility and facial masking, but an hour later, they have a swing back in their step, fluidity in their arms, and a smile on their face. One of our participants told us that it’s not perfect, but it’s often like taking an extra dose of medication–symptoms can slip away.  Over time, although physical elements might become more difficult, the emotional, expressive and social components of the class remain important and beneficial. The class can be a lifeline that separates a lonely, completely medicalized existence from a humanistic, community-centered, artistic one. 

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Reshmi Chakraborty

Reshmi is the co-founder of Silver Talkies. She loves books, travel and photography.