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  • Live Well & Dance with Parkinson's reflections: Paul Mayhew Archer
Live Well & Dance with Parkinson's reflections: Paul Mayhew Archer
Date posted: 13 April 2021
Paul Mayhew-Archer reflects on joining our Stretford, Greater Manchester online dance session in March 2021
Photo: James Deacon.

One of the remarkable things about Parkinson’s is that people with the illness discover talents they never knew they had. A man I met found he could draw beautiful pictures of animals. A woman discovered a gift for poetry. In my own case I took up dancing - ballet dancing to be precise - and, to my astonishment, discovered I had no talent whatsoever.  

I truly am terrible. I’m stiff, I’m ungainly and I have no discernible sense of rhythm. I’ll invariably be coming up out of a plié as everyone else is bending into one. Also if I’m told to “swing to the right” there’s a very good chance I’ll swing to the left because I literally cannot tell one from the other.

So you can imagine my amazement when Kiki Gale asked me to be a patron of her new community dance programme for people with Parkinson’s. I can only assume it’s because the one thing I have going for me is boundless enthusiasm. I may admire the genius of Rudolf Nureyev and Fred Astaire but my true dance hero is Ed Balls. In fact, my wife, Julie, comments on the similarity every time she watches me dance. “That’s balls” she says.

I said yes to Kiki because I’m keen to spread the word. The combination of beautiful music with movement which stretches us both physically and mentally is not only wonderfully therapeutic but, as a friend put it, “makes me forget for an hour that I have Parkinson’s.” Yet when I joined a class eight years ago even my neurologist had never heard of it. “Paul’s started taking ballet classes with English National Ballet,” Julie told him. “Good lord,” he replied. “That’s an interesting career move.” and he clearly expected to see me performing at Sadlers Wells any time soon.

I haven’t performed at “the Wells,” but a few weeks ago I had the joy of joining a class via zoom which was part of Kiki’s scheme. Our teacher was Helen Gould, who, in one of those strange coincidences the world throws up, had been a pupil at the school where I briefly taught. I think her time at the school must have been more successful than mine because I organised one school trip and got left behind while she turned into an outstanding dance teacher. Her class included a Port de Bras exercise to ‘The Swan’ from ‘Carnival of the Animals’ and an upper body exercise to ‘The dance of The Cygnets’ from ‘Swan lake’ so I’m tempted to say we did a lot of swanning about, but it was wonderful.

It was also wonderful to chat to the regulars after the class and I now look forward to the day I can return and dance with them in person. If you’ve never met me you’ll know who I am. I’ll be the cygnet going in the wrong direction.

Paul Mayhew-Archer co-wrote ‘The Vicar of Dibley’. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s ten years ago he now performs a show entitled “Incurable Optimist”.

Photo: James Deacon