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Dance intervention aims to get people with Parkinson’s moving

Close up shot of feet belonging to dancers

Jennifer Lapum and Rachel Bar are working to disseminate knowledge on the benefits of dance therapy.

Despite a growing body of evidence pointing to the benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s disease, those being referred to dance remains low.

Nursing professor Jennifer Lapum and doctoral student Rachel Bar are examining how arts-based interventions can bridge the knowledge gap with the help of Canada’s National Ballet School, in order to encourage more physicians and other health care providers to recommend dance and get more people with Parkinson’s moving. Bar’s doctoral research is grounded in this initiative under the supervision of Lapum and psychology professor Michelle Dionne.

“We are trying to use dance as a method of arts-based knowledge translation,” said Lapum.

For people with Parkinson’s, the benefits are many. “Research has shown that dance can improve gait, balance and a whole host of other symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease,” said Lapum. “But practice isn’t where it needs to be.”

Lapum, whose most recent project was a large-scale art installation that allowed participants to immerse themselves in the experience of open-heart surgery patients, is passionate about using the arts to disseminate knowledge.

The pair hope to engage clinicians in the process and convey the firsthand benefits of dance through two separate Canadian Institutes of Health Research-funded events, one at Toronto Western Hospital (home to Canada’s largest movement disorder clinic) and one at Canada’s National Ballet School, where Bar once trained to be a professional dancer.

Both events will feature panels including health care professionals, people with Parkinson’s, and dance experts discussing the role of dance in the treatment plan of people with Parkinson’s. The event held at Canada’s National Ballet School will also be live-streamed so that it can be viewed across the country, or even in different parts of the world.

According to Bar, her interest in this line of research was sparked when she was studying how learning new choreography impacted the brain of dancers. With researchers from York University, she discovered that one of the areas of the brain that was accessed in acquiring new routines was the same area of the brain that was affected by Parkinson’s. There are many benefits aside from clinical benefits, such as improved mood and socialization, that are not always quantifiable. She has witnessed these benefits at Canada’s National Ballet School, where she helps run weekly dance classes for people with Parkinson’s.