Thursday, 23 January 2020 10:42

Dancing Through Parkinson's

By Geraldine Freedman | News
Far right: Rachelle Smith-Stallman, Dance Instructor Far right: Rachelle Smith-Stallman, Dance Instructor Photo by Geraldine Freedman

People who suffer from Parkinson’s disease often struggle with tremors, facial stiffness, slurred speech or difficulties with movement. While the disease is considered incurable and progressive, these symptoms can possibly be alleviated with aerobic exercise and physical therapy focused on balance and stretching.

One of the best ways to maintain a discipline for these exercises is to keep moving with activities such as swimming, boxing or attending a weekly class, such as Dance through Parkinson’s held at the National Museum of Dance every Tuesday afternoon.

“It helps a lot,” said Fred, who’s been coming for about six months to the class as well as attending twice weekly physical therapy sessions in Scotia.

Donald, another Tuesday attendee, has been coming through the summer, said his caregiver Marilyn.

“I take him to a lot of classes,” she said. “If I didn’t, he’d sit home watching television.”

Leading the class is Rachelle Smith-Stallman, a dancer and dance therapist, with a Master’s in Dance/ Movement Therapy from Hunter College, who got involved about six years ago when a cousin and a friend of her husband’s got Parkinson’s.

“It broke my heart,” Smith-Stallman said. “I decided to volunteer and do a dance class.”

Albany had a Parkinson’s group and the response to her participation was so immediate that she decided to do four to five classes. That’s when she learned about the Dance for Parkinson program that Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group founded in 2001. Dancers were trained to explore movement through different types of music to enhance a participant’s strength, flexibility, and balance for awareness and confidence. The program is now in more than 250 communities and 25 countries. 

Smith-Stallman trained with the Mark Morris Dance Group at the Juilliard School in Brooklyn to become Board Certified in Dance Movement. She also recently completed another class. “It’s fantastic!” Smith-Stallman said.

Two years ago, she began giving Thursday classes at Colonie’s Ciccotti Center (30 Aviation Road) and in January 2018 she began the Tuesday sessions at the Dance Museum. While her Thursday classes are large, at 20-30 people, which also includes caregivers and friends, her Tuesday classes are small, at under ten people.

Despite size, she likes to theme her classes. A recent Tuesday class focused on the music of famous television programs. “It’s a dance class. We warm up in chairs, then on to standing with plies and then improvisation and dance sequences across the floor. For those who can’t stand, they are encouraged to join along by using arms and legs while sitting.” she said. “We really have a good time. It’s fun.”

The classes are free, although donations are accepted. 

Tuesday classes are at 1:30 p.m. for an hour at the
National Museum of Dance (99 South Broadway, Saratoga Springs).
Call 518-584-2225, ex. 3001;
Thursday classes are at 1:30 p.m. for 75 minutes at the Ciccotti Center. Call 518-867-8920;

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