During February Half Term I attended a two day event hosted by People Dancing in collaboration with English National Ballet and the Dance for Parkinson’s network, that would teach dance practitioners how to teach sessions aimed at those with Parkinson’s. Before the course began we were all instructed to take part in an online course about Parkinson’s that finished with an exam. Only those that passed the exam were then eligible to attend the two day workshop. While intense the workshop felt relaxed, having a community vibe throughout the course and especially in the second day.
During the first day we went through each element that would be included in a Dance for Parkinson’s session in a lot of detail. Being taught examples for each. The main focus of a lot of these elements is imagination, which is where dance and creativity really comes out as a way of expressing yourself.
One important thing to note is that for every exercise you need to have a variation for both sitting and standing. As although your class may be active and highly experienced in dance, if the symptoms of their Parkinson’s do begin to distract or inhibit movement they may want to sit down, but still be a part of the class. This community openness is a big thing within the classes at it adds fun and acceptance to the classes. While the classes aren’t primarily aimed at creating great dancers if the level of community and trust is build up, as a practitioner it may be important to give corrections that will enable growth, but creating brilliant dancer should not be the stand out aim of the sessions, although it may still happen.
When teaching these exercises I picked up a few tips from these workshops and the real class that we participated in that included others with Parkinson’s. The first of these tips is that when teaching and instructing movements should be cued using one word. These may be words that make sense, ie, reach when lifting one arm upwards above the head to stretch out that side, or may be a little non sensical, ie, whoosh for the same movement as above but in the context of your arm being a rocket ship launching into space. Having these cues for movement that are as simple as possible can allow for easier processing of the material, allowing the brain to catch up with/understand what should be happening and enable the body to the right movement.
The second tip I picked up is something that should be included within dance sessions regardless of the participants and that is that the class should be fun. When teaching dance to under 5’s you constantly become different creatures or people from stories and fairy tales which engages the participant. The same should be done within Dance for Parkinson’s sessions. While becoming a unicorn may not fit in with many lessons engaging the imagination is a key part of these sessions. You may tell the story through your body or transform yourself into a different character. By acting as a different character it can enable Parkinson’s sufferers to access movement in a different way. As well as it being fun, how many adults would really enjoy just playing like monkeys every now and again? As previously mentioned this self abandonment may take a little while to fully engage in, as people can become self conscious quite easily, but gaining up the trust and not asking participants to go to the deep end as soon as you meet them will strengthen this relationship.
The third tip is something that I think many people would avoid, which is creating the class to have a moderate to hard difficulty level. Through teaching children I know that there is a limit as to where to push them and how to do so, as there’s a balance. If the movement is too hard they will complain and become frustrated with themselves, if it’s too easy they’ll become bored. The balance can be tough but when creating these sessions, for participants to have a benefit from the class the material needs to be moderate to hard. This may be that it’s physically demanding, or that it engages cognition and is demanding mentally. If the sessions challenge the participant they are likely to benefit from it, as you’re developing them.
Tip four, is that you as the practitioner need to exude energy. The class will feed off of this energy and will become more engaged and willing to participate from it. The same, again, can be said for teaching other classes, but I think here the energy shouldn’t be as extroverted as it would be for other ages ranges. The energy focus should be on creating wonderful movement and really showing your talents as a dancer. Having the inspiration of a dancer in front of them will really allow them to aspire and want to create something that looks as nice as what you’ve taught them. Without it needing to be said, here there needs to be stimulation and an address that however big or alike to your own the movement is it is just as nice. Acknowledge that everyone’s ability is different and accepting that needs to be done for these classes. Expecting to create a lovely ballet group that are exactly the same as each other is not going to work and the Parkinson’s symptoms manifest themselves in so many different ways in every person, that everyone’s ability will be different and will change each week.
Throughout my time on the course I was filled with knowledge about teaching the classes and had a chance to develop an exercise to use within a class. Overall I found the course very useful in preparing me to teach these classes. However, I do think that right now in my early career that I’m not as equip to lead these sessions as well as I could be with a lot more experience. So for now I don’t see myself starting these classes very soon, but with a lot more experience of working with the elder population I may have the confidence to lead these sessions. So watch out in the long-term!