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Community News

Mark Morris Dance Class Aids Parkinson's Sufferers

Before the start of the class at the Mark Morris Dance Center in Fort Greene, Maria Parker sat in a wheelchair and her home attendant, Ursula Bailey, stood close beside.

Parker's hands trembled uncontrollably. The frail, 67-year-old woman has Parkinson's disease and did not appear ready to dance.

But she was. The Mark Morris Dance Center offers weekly classes for people with Parkinson's, a chronic and progressive brain disorder.

"The people who stay active and involved are those who do best," said Olie Westheimer, founder and executive director of the Brooklyn Parkinson Group.

Her husband, Dr. Ivan Bodis-Wollner, heads the Parkinson's Disease Center at Kings County Hospital/SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

Westheimer, who has studied dance, came up with the idea for the class. The Mark Morris Center readily agreed to provide teachers, a pianist and a spacious studio.

Just before last Wednesday's session, Parker exchanged her wheelchair for a folding metal chair and sat in a circle with 23 other dancers. Most also had Parkinson's.

"Inhale, one, two, three, four. Slowly raise your hands. Now lower them. Imagine you are floating," dancer David Leventhal instructed as pianist William Wade played softly.

Parker followed every move. She gracefully lifted and lowered hear hands and arms. She stretched her legs, pointed her toes, arched her back, leaned forward.

Over the next 75 minutes, teachers Leventhal, John Heginbotham and Misty Owens got their dance students out of their chairs and put them through their paces. There were demi-pliťs at ballet barres, modern dance and tap steps, and marches across the studio floor to the strains of "Seventy-Six Trombones." The group also did moves from the company's own repertoire.

"When members of the class see us in performance, they see that they've learned some of the same movements," said Leventhal. "That gives them a sense of empowerment and a sense of community."

Parker, back in her wheelchair when the session ended, said, "The class is very nice. It helps me to go."

Gladys Medina, 72, of Jackson Heights, Queens, said she considers the class "the best thing I have found. It helps me a lot to control my body."

And Sam Tulman, 89, of Brooklyn Heights, delighted in both the dancing and "seeing all these people and seeing they are functioning."

For Robert Simpson, 58, of Manhattan, the class is transforming. He used to dance professionally.

"There was a point a couple of weeks ago when, before I knew it, I felt I was being lifted. It was a feeling of being transcended. It was so wonderful," Simpson said.

jshelby@nydailynews.com

For more information on classes, call (718) 522-0553 or visit, www.brooklynparkinsongroup.org

To learn more about the therapeutic value of creativity for those with Parkinson's disease, please visit PDF's PDCreativity project at: www.pdcreativity.org

Source Date: Oct 23 2007
Source Publication: Daily News