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Parkinson’s and Dance: New Partners

Herschel and Karen Ele

Karen and Herschel Ele

There’s a dance revolution going on—for people with Parkinson’s and their partners. And the U-M Turner Senior Wellness Program is right in step. Here is one caregiver’s story about how Turner’s Movement & Dance Class changed his life.

My wife Karen and I have participated in many support groups for Parkinson’s Disease (PD). I also belong to a support group for caregivers of patients with a dementia diagnosis. For us, the Parkinson’s Movement & Dance Class is the best of all of them.

A better relationship

Clearly, something very positive happened while taking the class.

Karen Ele (in purple jacket) at Turner's Parkinson's Movement and Dance Class

Karen Ele (in rear in purple jacket) at Turner’s Parkinson’s Movement & Dance Class

Participating in the class has contributed to a better relationship between us. Karen has looked forward to the classes each week, and although she finds them challenging, it gives her something to be engaged in.

As a care partner, I have gradually felt more and more at home, even though at first dance was outside my comfort zone. I have felt happier, healthier, more outgoing and more relaxed as a result of the class. 

The challenges of caregiving

I’ve even seen a change in my attitude and the way I treat Karen. I tended to be uptight and often impatient with her because of some of the physical and mental problems she exhibited. It has been a struggle for me as I have had to assume more and more responsibility (now even helping with her dressing, etc.) while at the same time watching her decline. I would attend even if Karen did not.

It surprises me that I have lightened up, become more flexible (emotionally as well as physically), and more accepting of the changes associated with PD. I also believe my mood has improved and I don’t feel as sorry for myself as I formerly did. I see hope and possibilities.

Why the program works so well

Why does this program work so well? Here are some thoughts: the group meets weekly, so it’s a regular part of the week, something to look forward to. In the context of the group, we can easily build relationships. Our physical benefits, etc., build with weekly repetition. There is a very accepting atmosphere and lots of friendly good humor. Lindsay and Megan, the instructors, are so genuine and — frankly, loving — that one wants to be in their presence. They’re obviously having fun, and it’s contagious. They love dance and are committed to this cause.

Perhaps another factor is that the emphasis is not on the limitations of PD or the disease itself (which tends to be true in other contexts) but upon the joys of what we can do through dance.

Take the next steps

  • The next 6-week Parkinson’s Movement & Dance Class starts Saturday, May 2 and runs through June 13 (no class Memorial Day weekend). Cost is $30 per person, $50 per couple. Scholarships available. No experience necessary. Call 734-998-9350 for more information.
  • Read more about the Dance for Parkinson’s Disease® program, based in New York. Lindsay Matthews, Social Worker, Emergency Department, and Megan Sims, dance instructor, were officially trained by Dance for PD® trainers, qualifying them to teach this class.

The classes are a collaborative effort, funded by the U-M Geriatrics Center, Surgical Therapies Improving Movement (STIM) Program, Gifts of Art and MHealthy.


new_logos_180x1806For more than 160 years, the University of Michigan Health System has been a national leader in advanced patient care, innovative research to improve human health and comprehensive education of physicians and medical scientists. The three U-M hospitals have been recognized numerous times for excellence in patient care, including a #1 ranking in Michigan and national rankings in many specialty areas by U.S. News & World Report.