Is there anything more joyful than dancing? C’mon admit it, who doesn’t love busting moves? Whether it be ballroom, ballet or bopping, the feeling one derives from moving to music is rather magical. But, unfortunately, for Parkinson’s sufferers dancing can prove to be challenging, but Lancaster-based company, LPM Dance have got it covered. I caught up with co-director Helen Gould to talk about shaking off the shackles…
No matter what age, dance doesn’t discriminate; its diversity is the one thing that can bind people together, a sentiment embodied by LPM Dance, their ethos is to provide opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to experience the power of dance.
“We find a safe space, for people who just understand what it’s like to live with Parkinson’s to dance together,” smiles Helen. “We don’t talk about Parkinson’s in the session, we all get it, and what we find, encourage and really enjoy is that when people have started to build up their confidence, then our dance class is filled with people that have experience with lots of different things that we can all build from.”
Young or old, anyone can get Parkinson’s. Currently in the UK, around 145,000 people are already living with it and every hour two more people are diagnosed. One in 37 people alive today will be diagnosed with Parkinson’s in their lifetime. For those of you not familiar with the disease, symptoms can include rigidity, depression, tremors, fatigue, anxiety and that’s just for starters.
“We all know that exercise makes you feel good, but dance particularly because you are working with music. It’s inspiring and it’s bringing people together, so it is the social aspect, but then some of the challenges people have when living with Parkinson’s – the freezing, the bradykinesia, the fluidity of movement, those types of symptoms can be relieved by dancing. We’ve had it where people have left behind their walking sticks because they’ve just walked out of a dance studio because they are just free, it’s just something that happens, the movement practice bypasses that little Parkinson’s block where they are not consciously having to think about what movement they’re trying to do, it’s exhausting, isn’t it? Constantly just thinking about what movement they are trying to do. It just frees everything up really.”
“THE MOVEMENT PRACTICE BYPASSES THAT LITTLE PARKINSON’S BLOCK WHERE THEY ARE NOT CONsCIOUSLY HAVING TO THINK ABOUT MOVEMENT.”
Helen, a London lass has lived in Lancaster since working for Ludus Dance in 2009, and by the sounds of it has no intentions of moving back down south. “I love it up here, it’s great, it’s just brilliant. There’s a more positive energy up north. And despite her southern tone, she now pronounces the word dance as opposed to ‘darnce’!
After initially completing her training at Bird College of Dance and Theatre Performance, Helen’s career has spanned the commercial and contemporary dance theatre sector throughout the Europe and the UK. Her experience of Parkinson’s began when she worked on behalf of the English National Ballet in Liverpool, London and then Manchester. “That really informed my understanding of how it all pieces together and how it works with their practice. When we started in Lancashire, we wanted to bring it to different people because ultimately people with access needs such as Parkinson’s may struggle to travel if they live in Morecambe or Blackburn. We were able to extend the provision a little bit further and that’s when I partnered up with Dr Mel Brierley at Arnside.”
Mel is one of the early pioneers of Dance for Parkinson’s Partnership UK, a voluntary organisation providing opportunities for people with Parkinson’s to dance, specialises in classes focused on people living with neurological conditions and dementia.
Their joint partnership is certainly successful, but how do they accommodate people with Parkinson’s unable to make it to class?
“If they don’t fancy visiting the studio on a day like today (it’s chucking down!), they can hop onto Zoom and dance in their living room. If we’re working with students or graduate artists, we try to ensure that we’ve got them in the space with us or on the Zoom session so they can provide a differentiated version of the exercises. We are constantly reminding people that there’s no wrong way of interpreting what I’m doing. They can take it at their own pace and move how their body wants to move in that particular moment in time.”
The culture of LPM Dance is one of inclusion and within their Parkinson’s classes, the dancers also have valuable input.
“There’s plenty of different styles we approach. What we try and do is ask what kind of music people like, we’ve tried everything from Lancashire clogging to ballet to musical theatre!
“Recently, my friend has developed a piece called Quite Unfit for Females which is about The Dick Kerr Ladies’ Football team in the 1920s and it’s such a brilliant piece to use as a starting point, because the ladies worked in an ammunitions’ factory, so it’s got plenty of content about that. They kindly let us use their music, so we’ve been working on a 1920s football-related theme. So, there’s a bit of Charleston in there too.”
Recently they created a film of their dancers performing in their own homes for part of an exhibition in partnership with Danielle Teale named the Collective Identity Project. The exhibition is currently touring in London, but will be on its way up north to the Fleetwood and Fulwood Museum on the 27th January 2022.
It just goes to show that you don’t need to be a svelte ballerina, tap like Gene Kelly, or strut like John Travolta – dance is for everyone. Don’t let Parkinson’s define you, you re-define Parkinson’s by learning to move with joy, I’m sure you’ll agree that’s something we could all do with right now.