Dance for Parkinson’s: Ballet initiative’s proven social, psychological and physical benefits


Find out more about our related courses: Activities Planning, Parkinson’s Disease Awareness, Person Centred Care Planning, Dance for Parkinson’s is a programme delivered by English National Ballet to help reduce the effect of movement difficulties experienced by those with Parkinson’s disease. In addition to the physical benefits, people with Parkinson’s are rediscovering their confidence, making friends and benefiting from the support of others in the Parkinson’s community. English National Ballet’s (ENB) Dance for Parkinson’s programme, has lead the way with its proven benefits, both psychological and physical. The idea stemmed from a seminar hosted by ENB’s director of learning, Fleur Derbyshire-Fox, which introduced US based dance programmes for those with Parkinson’s disease. Fleur Derbyshire-Fox described how the seminar was the catalyst for the programme: “I realised that here we were [at ENB] with a beautiful dance studio, and that it would make sense with our national remit and the resources we can offer to extend our work in this way.” Proven Benefits Using funding provided by Westminster City Council in London, Fleur Derbyshire-Fox was able to establish a 12-week pilot project. Dr Sara Houston and Ashley McGill from Roehampton University were enlisted to carry out a research study of the pilot, which involved examining physical data and analysis of individual and group interviews and diary entries. The results showed physical improvements as well as evidence that the classes had enabled individuals to access skills they didn’t know they had by increasing their confidence. As a result of the findings, ENB was granted funding for another term.  Danielle Jones, learning and participation officer at ENB, explains the processes behind the classes: “With every one of our exercises, we have in mind an understanding of the benefits. For people who are struggling with freezing, vertigo and falling, we do a lot of work on grounding weight and pulling the centre of gravity into a stable standing position. We also show people how to find their own alignment to give them confidence to work independently.” Being asked to move as a particular character from a performance can enhance a person’s movement as Danielle Jones explains: “Focusing on character helps them to overcome physical barriers.”  Nick Ephgrave, an information and support worker at Parkinson’s UK, explains how the benefits of the classes extend beyond the physical improvements:  “The benefits experienced by the Dance for Parkinson’s participants reach far beyond the physical – a genuine community has sprung out of ENB. Some people may see each other at a monthly support group and say hello, but because of the intimacy of dance, real friendships have developed – more so than with any other support group I’m involved with. From a selfish point of view, that’s made my job easier! Parkinson’s UK is always trying to reach as many people as possible and ENB has hugely helped with that. I often meet people at the ballet classes who don’t know about the work the organisation does or how it can support them, so I’m managing to reach people I never otherwise would have as a direct result of Dance for Parkinson’s.  Research has traditionally focused on motor symptoms, but there’s no question as to the benefits people are receiving through these groups. They are getting out of the house, meeting new people, and they leave the building with a smile on their faces. It’s hard to quantify but as a support worker I can see that the act of dancing with ENB has had a profound effect on the participants in so many areas – and not just the mobility issues for the hour and a half they’re in the studio. Of course there are all the physical benefits of dance and ballet – but the simple act of coming to an event they enjoy on a weekly basis… that’s priceless.”  Inclusivity Carers are also encouraged to take part in the classes, softening the distinction between ‘carer’ and ‘cared for’. By taking part in the programme they are able to meet other carers and gain an insight into the benefits for those with Parkinson’s disease. Fleur Derbyshire-Fox explains the benefits of the inclusive classes: “Dance is an inclusive practice, and if you are attending the class with your carer, there is equality. Here, everyone is a dancer, and no one has more power than the other.”