Shall We Dance?

There is evidence that exercise, especially strenuous activity, builds muscle and brain power in people with Parkinson’s. Dance appears to meet many, if not all, of the recommended components for exercise programs designed for individuals with Parkinson’s. That’s because dance includes elements to improve balance and gait function, as well as improve quality of life.

DANCE —   \ ˈ dan (t) s, ˈdän (t) s\

  1. 1: to perform or take part in as a dancer—dance the waltz
  2. 2: to cause to dance — danced the baby on her knee
  3. 3: to bring into a specified condition by dancing—danced his way into her heart

Parkinson’s is a neurological disorder that progressively robs a person’s ability to move. Motor and non-motor symptoms worsen over time. It also affects coordination, balance, strength, and can interfere with the ability to speak clearly.

People with Parkinson’s often feel trapped or constrained by their condition. When they dance, it is a very different, liberating experience. While support groups provide a great forum to share issues, weekly dance classes provide physical and psychosocial benefits for people with Parkinson’s, their care partners and families. A dance class becomes a community and gives a person a sense of belonging.

Research indicates that dance is an effective, complementary therapy for those living with Parkinson’s disease, according to Rachel Bar, Manager, Health and Research Initiatives, at Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto. “More than 40 research studies have established its benefits,” she says.

Beyond the physical benefits, dance encourages social inclusion and personal and artistic expression, which could lead to benefits in areas of depression and anxiety.

A number of leading neurologists and movement disorder specialists include dance classes among a shortlist of recommended activities for their patients. No experience is necessary and participants are encouraged to do what is possible for them on any given day.

Parkinson Canada Research Program has funded over 550 research projects since 1981 and several focus on the benefits of dance, including the ground breaking work of Joseph De Souza, a neuroscientist at Toronto’s York University. Volunteers undergo a brain scan before and after a one-hour dance class with Sarah Robichaud, founder of Dancing with Parkinson’s. For nearly a decade, Sarah, a classically trained dancer, founder and instructor with Dancing with Parkinson’s, has been seeing what scientists are now trying to prove.

“Anecdotally, what the students tell us and what we see may be new neuro-pathways being created,” says Robichaud, “because people sometimes who walk in with walkers, who are very unstable, halfway through the class will start waltzing through the room unassisted.”

“Almost everyone who participates in the (dance) classes notices improvement in movements, claims improvement in quality of life and in mood, like emotion,” says De Souza. For the last three years, he and his researchers have been tracking the brainwaves of dozens of people with Parkinson’s participating in dance classes. De Souza also performs a series of physical tests to measure the impact the classes have on their gait and coordination.

AB (Alice Betty) Rustin has been taking a Sharing Dance for People with Parkinson’s class at Canada’s National Ballet School for over three years now. “It’s always great to spend time with others with Parkinson’s,” says AB. “And I feel better after a class. The movements are not as strenuous as in an exercise class. They are much more fluid. And you’ve got the wonderful music.”

In January 2019, Parkinson Canada presented a webinar on the benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s—hosted by David Leventhal, an internationally renowned, founding teacher and Program Director for Dance for PD® – a program of the Mark Morris Dance Group that has now been used as a model for classes in more than 300 communities in 25 countries. David leads classes for people with Parkinson’s disease and trains other teachers in the Dance for PD® approach.

David will be leading dance classes across Canada this year and Parkinson Canada and Hamilton City Ballet Dance for Parkinson’s, both members of the Dance for Parkinson’s Network, invite you to attend a session led by David, in Hamilton, Ontario on May 17, 2019. This event is cancelled and will be rescheduled.

Parkinson Canada in collaboration with Canada’s National Ballet School and Dance for PD® is bringing the acclaimed Dancing with Parkinson’s (DWP) exercise program to Sault Ste. Marie. The pilot program will run for 8-weeks, free of charge and under the guidance of local Studio Directors from Elite Dance Force, Kaitlin Pelletier and Christina Trevisan. Technology is allowing the live stream of classes from the studio at the National Ballet School in Toronto while participants gather at Elite Dance Force in the “Soo.”

People living with Parkinson’s of every age, stage and ability are invited to experience the joys and benefits of dance while creatively addressing Parkinson’s-specific concerns. Across the country, dance classes for people with Parkinson’s are gaining in popularity and several Parkinson Canada local offices and support groups are coordinating such offerings with local dance education instructors and partners. These dance classes are modified to be safe and effective for their participants with Parkinson’s disease, as well as their spouses or care partners, while offering the joy of dance and all the benefits of moving to music. For more information on the program designed to celebrate Parkinson Awareness Month 2019 (April) visit

“Dance is almost like a supplemental therapy that helps people cope with whatever they’re dealing with,” DeSouza says.

Everyone should have the right to dance—and everyone should have access to dance.

Questions? Parkinson Canada is here to help. Call our Information and Referral line toll free at 1 800 565 3000 or email


Useful Links

CBC TV segment on Dancing with Parkinson’s:

Parkinson Canada – 2019 Webinar Series—Mark your Calendars!

Dancing for Parkinson’s Network Canada April 2019 Open House Classes—April is Parkinson Awareness Month—take part and get dancing at over 15 locations!

Canada’s National Ballet School [NBS] is thrilled to announce the official launch of NBS #SharingDanceDay 2019!

‘Not making the connection’: What it’s like for Parkinson’s patients with frozen gait —  Global News article from Feb 10, 2019 featuring Marg Turner on freezing cites one of Parkinson Canada’s funded researchers

Dancing with Parkinson’s research  CBC News Item from Jan 23, 2017 —  “Something about dancing seems to rewire the brain and create new pathways that control movement”