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Dance for Parkinson's
Date posted: 26 February 2018
The People Dancing Summer School will welcome one of the world's leading lights in the growing field of dance for Parkinson's. David Leventhal joins us from his Brooklyn studio - here's his blog on pushing the seemingly immovable 'flywheel'.
David Leventhal
In Good to Great*, his influential book about successful change and innovation in business, Jim Collins describes what he calls the 'flywheel effect'. When starting a new project or initiative, it often feels like you're trying to move a giant, heavy flywheel, and the resistance is punishing.
At some point, Collins writes, there's a breakthrough - you've pushed long and hard enough that the flywheel starts to build up speed and momentum takes over. From the outside, it looks like an overnight sensation; from the inside, everyone on the project knows just how much incremental effort has gone into achieving that result.

Those of us working in Community Dance - especially in practice that impacts particular groups of people - are as familiar with this concept as any of the Fortune 500 executives Collins interviewed for his book. We work hard to develop our area of practice, and we push slowly and surely to gain traction, measured through participation, support, recognition and validation.

I know. I've spent the last 16 years working with my colleagues to transform the Mark Morris Dance Group's Dance for PD® programme, from a single monthly class in Brooklyn to a constellation that includes nine programmes throughout New York City and serves as a model for like-minded organisations and affiliated teachers in 24 countries.

One of my goals from the start was to spark enthusiasm among practitioners so that they have enough inspiration to start pushing their own flywheels - and enough resources, training and encouragement to keep pushing even when resistance seems permanent.
But I'm also starting to see the breakthrough point of the flywheel. The exceptional efforts and contributions of everyone in the global dance for Parkinson's movement are starting to pay off. Momentum is gathering and, as Collins identifies, "Each turn of the flywheel builds upon work done earlier, compounding your investment of effort." What are the signs of this?
  • We now regularly field enquiries from neurologists and movement disorders centres who are interested in presentations and demonstrations about the benefits of dance for people with PD. This didn't happen when we started. Quite the opposite, in fact - one doctor told me that despite his personal appreciation for the programme, he thought it would hurt his reputation to recommend something as 'frivolous' as dance for people with movement disorders. Not any more: big names in the neurological community are starting to take notice of the power of dance
  • We can see a surge of interest from the physiotherapy community. Instead of resisting the dance community's efforts, physiotherapists are becoming interested in what dance practitioners have to say about movement, and they are inspired by the ways we integrate music, narrative and imagery in our practice. Furthermore, those physiotherapists with strong dance backgrounds are returning to their artistic roots and offering dance classes that fuse their various strands of expertise
  • Large healthcare organisations, like Kaiser Permanente in California, are starting to integrate artist-led Dance for Parkinson's classes into their community offerings and are asking us to offer professional development workshops to their physio and occupational therapists
  • There are now 38 peer-reviewed scientific studies on the positive impact of dance for people with Parkinson's; the vast majority of those studies are based on dance practice that prioritises artistic or cultural practice rather than clinical therapy models. And because of these studies, it is now widely accepted by major Parkinson's organisations in the UK, Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, and the US that dance is an effective, evidence-based practice that should be offered as a critical part of a robust portfolio of activities. In fact, the efficacy of dance practice for Parkinson's is so established at this point that research colleagues were recently directed by a potential grantor to focus on a different neurological condition: "We already know dance works for Parkinson's," they were told
  • Most importantly, to my mind, many of our established partners, from San Francisco to Toronto to Perth, are reporting a surge in class participation; I've fielded a number of enquiries about how to deal with overcrowding, registration challenges, and finding resources to open additional classes. Although no one wants to see Parkinson's cases increasing, it is a good sign that people with Parkinson's are taking charge of their lives and filling them with activities, like dance, that provide meaning, creativity, social connection and physical benefit. It's also encouraging that those practitioners who've completed training are offering work that is valued, safe and beneficial to the communities they serve.
These are reassuring developments, particularly for those of us who remember the days of greater resistance, but this is no time for those of us working in the field to hang back and rest. Our flywheel has momentum now, no doubt, but we need to continue to enhance the artistic quality of our work, to explore new creative directions, and to reach out to the Parkinson's community and our partners in the medical and research fields to help them understand the impact of our work more deeply and to forge stronger collaborative bonds. 

As our societies contend with the enormous challenges of an ageing population interfacing with  an embattled healthcare system, and as Parkinson's continues its unfortunate course as the globe's fastest-growing neurological condition, the transformative non-clinical opportunities that community dance artists offer will be needed more than ever. Let's all find a spot on the wheel and push together.

* Collins, James C. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don't. New York, NY: HarperBusiness, 2001.

David Leventhal
Founding teacher and Programme Director for Dance for PD®, a programme of the Mark Morris Dance Group in Brooklyn, New York. As a dancer, David performed with the Mark Morris Dance Group from 1997-2011, receiving a Bessie (New York Dance and Performance Award) for his performing career.

You can click here for full details of People Dancing Summer School 2018, including the two Dance for Parkinson's courses.