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Miracle of Movement: Mark Morris Dance combats the effects of Parkinson’s

David Leventhal, program director at ‘Dance for PD’ says participants transform 'into dancers, not patients'

February 14, 2023 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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Patients with Parkinson’s are combating their disease with dance, thanks to weekly free Dance for PD classes with the Mark Morris Dance Group in Brooklyn. 

Research confirms that dance is highly beneficial for people suffering from Parkinson’s disease by slowing its progression. At the Mark Morris Dance Center, weekly classes are improving overall movement, walking ability, cognitive maintenance and tremor severity for people of all ages and at all stages of the disease. These classes, offered free three times a week, are not a heavy therapy session — they are learning choreography by legendary dance maker Mark Morris, enjoying the freedom of movement, the grace of music and are diving into their artistic expression with confidence, too.

The Mark Morris Dance Group has developed this specialized class and is training teachers all around the world to offer these classes to more patients. Currently, more than 10,000 participants have enjoyed Dance for PD, with free classes being offered in 28 countries. There are also free classes offered on zoom in addition to a digital library of over 300 classes, available 24/7, and even a dance-by-phone program for those who don’t have access to a computer.

Dance Center – BEST cleaned FINAL.jpg Mark Morris Dance Center. Photo: Mark Morris Dance Group

Anyone interested in learning more is invited to visit the center and experience a class. Classes are offered three times a week: Monday, 5:30-6:30 p.m.; Wednesday and Friday, 2:15-3:15 p.m. Classes take place at the Mark Morris Dance Center, located at 3 Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn.

To see a video of the inspirational transformation in patients through dancing, view this video.

“The dancing part of this [program] isn’t a miracle and it’s not a treatment,” said Mark Morris, founder and Artistic Director of the Mark Morris Dance Group. “But I also see this amazing thing of the people who come into the building one way and leave another way. And I don’t mean by a different door, I mean that they’ve been transformed in a certain way.”

Mark Morris. Photo: Beowulf Sheehan

“My grandmother had Parkinson’s disease, so this program has always meant a lot to me,” said Judith Fishman, the Mark Morris Dance Group Board Chair. “The way Dance for PD uses music and strong choreographic cues helps people who often have trouble walking, move with power and grace. One of the participants once told me that the 1-hour Dance for PD class she takes every week is the only time she feels that she’s not defined by her disease.”

David Leventhal, member of the Mark Morris faculty and Program Director for Dance for PD, runs the inspirational Parkinson’s program. Mr. Leventhal was Interviewed by Brooklyn Eagle.

BROOKLYN EAGLE: This is obviously important work to you. In addition to your dance background, have you had experience prior to working with Mark Morris in the use of rhythmic movement for healing?

DAVID LEVENTHAL: I had no prior experience using dance for health and healing before I started teaching Dance for PD — but I did have experience working with a wide range of students, with and without disabilities, as part of the company’s engagement work in cities where we toured.

Judith Fishman, Chair, Mark Morris Dance Company. Photo: Beowulf Sheehan

 

EAGLE: Was it the Mark Morris Dance Group that brought you to Brooklyn? Where did you grow up?

David Leventhal, Program Director and one of the founding teachers of MMDG’s Dance for PD program. Photo: Annie Lindekugel/World Parkinson Congress

LEVENTHAL: I grew up in the Boston area, where I fell in love with Mark’s work and his company, and I moved to New York to try to dance professionally after college. When I started dancing with the company in 1997, I was living in Queens — but I moved to Brooklyn when the Mark Morris Dance Center opened in Fort Greene in 2001.

EAGLE: It is impressive and astounding to see that this program is actually international. Has this been a longtime passion of Mark’s? How has working with Parkinson’s patients expanded your own views of dancing?

LEVENTHAL: Mark has always believed in the power of dance to build and sustain a sense of community — you see it in his work, and in the fact that the Dance Center invites anybody, with any body, to enjoy the experience of dancing. Dance for PD’s launch at the Dance Center in 2001 happened because of Mark’s inclusive and expansive vision. Dance for PD reminds me every day that when we gather to dance in a group, we celebrate our humanity and sense of connection to our own bodies and each other. People with Parkinson’s in our program regain a sense of agency and empowerment — the feeling that they matter, that they have something to say, that they belong to a community, and that their identity does not have to be shaped only by Parkinson’s. They become dancers, not patients.


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