DianneSJ ParknDanceInaugural cropped

by Katie Wilde

Having only been involved with Guelph Arts Council for the past two years of our organization’s forty, I am aware that there are many individuals who have served on the Board at one time, who have done amazing things not only in their own careers, but to develop the arts and community in our city. Sometimes it comes to the forefront of my attention. Last week was one of those times, when I encountered two former board members who are bringing something new to Guelph.

Following a performing career as a professional ballet dancer at the Chicago Opera and a dancer-actor on Broadway, Sarah Jane Burton became a choreographer, director, and dance teacher in Canada, the USA, Ghana and France. She recently retired as Professor of Dance and Movement in Theatre and Drama Studies at the University of Toronto and Sheridan College. Her family has been based in Guelph for many decades, and it is here that she is developing a new and exciting program to help people with Parkinson’s Disease.

The idea was sparked after hearing an interview on the radio concerning a dance program in Cambridge for people with Parkinson’s. Burton says, “I knew instantly that this is what I wanted to do to give back to my community while doing something I love.”

Left to right: Dianne Long, who directs the program Dancers with PD, in Cambridge, and Sarah Jane Burton, Director
of Park’n Dance, Guelph. Both programs are based on the DANCE FOR PD format, for which both instructors have been
trained, in Toronto and in Brooklyn. “We support each other and often teach a few exercises in the other’s program.”
– Sarah Jane Burton. Photo by John Burton.

With the help of another former GAC board member, past President Dorothy Fisher, Parkn’Dance was born here in Guelph. Parkn’Dance offers dance classes based on the program, Dance for PD, developed by the Mark Morris Dance Group in Brooklyn, NY. This successful model has spread internationally, and is supported by an ever-growing body of scientific research outlining the neurological and social effects of dance on those with Parkinson’s.

The rationale for the program is described in the peer-reviewed article “Why Dance for Parkinson’s” published in Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation in 2007:

It is well known that visual cues1 and musical rhythms2 often help persons with PD who no longer can rely on their unconscious sense of balance and ability to initiate and control automatic movements such as walking. What well-trained dancers know how to do very, very well, is control their movements with cognitive strategies and conscious use of all sensory input. It was assumed that persons with Parkinson’s disease as well as others in the class would benefit from and enjoy learning techniques dancers use to stand, sit, and move with grace.

the pulse1

Photo by Judith Basham

The author goes on to describe how the positive social aspects and welcoming environment, in addition to the dance itself, would ‘take mind and spirit away from thoughts of disease and disability’ thus ‘improv[ing] the mood of persons with PD and caregivers’.

ParknDance Social Time 1 21 16-2.0
Photo by John Burton

Each weekly dance class, with musical accompaniment, is one hour long followed by social time with light refreshments. Well-known Guelph musician and City Councillor James Gordon performed for the inaugural class.

Burton described the experience of the program, saying, “The participants have enjoyed being introduced to accessible dance movements in a comfortable and accepting atmosphere. They find pleasure in moving to music with imagery as a guide. Light refreshments after class provide a welcome social time.”

Currently the classes are held each Thursday at 1:30 pm at The Village of Arbour Trails, located at 32 Bayberry Drive, Guelph. Anyone with Parkinson’s is welcome to take the class, and may bring a caregiver/spouse with them, who is also welcome to enjoy taking the class.

This initial session runs for eight weeks through March 10th, after which they will take into account any feedback, then organize the next session. The intent is to provide these classes throughout the year.

“Wonderful volunteers have helped to launch this program,” says Burton “We are thrilled to bring these classes to our Guelph area.”

For more information or to register, contact:
Sarah Jane Burton

Guelph Program Director

[email protected]

Classes are $10/session 

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