Queensland Ballet announces research into benefits of Dance for Parkinson's

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Queensland Ballet is undertaking research into its innovative new Dance for Parkinson’s pilot program to investigate the physical, social and emotional benefits that ballet and dance can have on people living with Parkinson’s disease (Parkinson’s).

Queensland Ballet CEO Anna Marsden says, “Queensland Ballet is passionate about celebrating the health and fitness benefits of ballet with the community, and we're very proud to introduce Dance for Parkinson's to Queensland.

“This innovative program, the first Dance for Parkinson's program offered by a professional dance company in Australia, is a great example of how arts and science can work together to improve the lives of those affected by Parkinson’s.”

Queensland Ballet has been working with David Leventhal from the Mark Morris Dance Group in New York (the founders of Dance for PD), Parkinson’s Queensland and Brisbane-based Dance for PD specialist Erica Rose Jeffrey since May 2013 to introduce the program to Queensland.

The Company hosted a two-day teacher training workshop held by David Leventhal and Erica Rose Jeffrey in May last year, and since October, free weekly classes for members of the community affected by Parkinson’s have been held on Saturdays at Queensland Ballet’s home, the Thomas Dixon Centre in West End.

Experts from QUT’s Creative Industries (Dance) and Health (Movement Neuroscience) faculties have joined forces with fellow Parkinson’s researchers from The University of Queensland’s (UQ) Health and Behavioural Sciences (Physiotherapy) faculty to research the social and physical benefits of the program.

Prior research undertaken suggests that as well as positive impacts on quality of life, dance can also improve cognitive performance and reaction times, making it a useful means of alleviating symptoms for a number of conditions, including arthritis, dementia, depression and Parkinson’s.

“We hope that our research with QUT and UQ will positively contribute to other areas of research into Parkinson’s,” comments Anna Marsden.

The Dance for Parkinson’s pilot program has been enabled by a generous gift from the John T Reid Charitable Trusts, and the research is part of Queensland Ballet and QUT’s Dance Industry Partnership.

The research is voluntary among participants and care givers, and involves clinical measurements, questionnaires, personal interviews, observational filming and diaries.

Clinical measurements regarding balance, gait and mobility; questionnaires focusing on quality of life and participation in the classes; and short personal, audio-recorded interviews occurred before the commencement of the program in October, and will occur again after the final class in July.

Each class is filmed for future dance movement analysis (Laban analysis), as well as teacher evaluation. Participants and carers have also been asked to keep a diary on a voluntary basis.

The findings of the research will be released later this year.

Minister for Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts Ian Walker said he was excited to see Queensland Ballet working together with university researchers to widen the scope of how arts and science could bring positive outcomes for Queenslanders.

"This is a great example of how, if we think outside the square, seemingly disparate areas can come together to find innovation solutions or ideas. I commend the Queensland Ballet and its partners in this project and hope to see this pilot program come to fruition as an ongoing initiative."

“Parkinson’s has a profound effect on movement, so anything we can do to improve flexibility, balance and coordination will be beneficial,” said QUT neuroscientist Professor Graham Kerr, who is also Vice President of Parkinson’s Queensland.

UQ’s Head of Physiotherapy, Professor Sandra Brauer said, “We know that dance can improve some aspects of balance in people with Parkinson’s. This study will investigate the impact of dance using a more comprehensive set of measures than done before.”

Queensland Ballet’s program offers Dance for Parkinson's participants and carers a wider insight into the world of ballet, by incorporating choreography and music from its repertoire into the classes, and through other opportunities to engage with the Company.

“The strong bonds Dance for Parkinson’s participants forge with Queensland Ballet’s community can make all the difference to their mental health – and learning to express themselves creatively can be a fantastic mood enhancer,” said QUT’s Head of Dance, Associate Professor Gene Moyle, who is also a sport and exercise psychologist and a Queensland Ballet Board Director.

Parkinson’s Queensland CEO Helen Crew said: “We are absolutely delighted to be collaborating with Queensland Ballet with their Dance for Parkinson’s pilot program. It is a creative and unique program that seeks to improve the quality of life for those in our community who face a very challenging movement disorder such as Parkinson’s.

“The feedback we have received from our Parkinson’s members participating in this program has been overwhelmingly positive, with many reporting improved mobility as a result of the specifically designed dance movements. Queensland Ballet is to be congratulated on bringing this program to Queensland.”

David Leventhal and Erica Rose Jeffrey’s work to introduce Dance for PD to Australia has also resulted in the creation of classes in Canberra, Victoria, Sydney and Nowra on the NSW south coast.

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