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"More cheerful, more energised, more able to cope"
Date posted: 20 November 2017
From a cuppa and a chat to doing a Haka – Steff Streat, who has lived with Parkinson’s for 10 years, blogs on the difference going to a dance for Parkinson’s class makes to her quality of life
Steff Streat
To best appreciate what I get from a dance class you need to understand how I generally feel most days. Parkinson’s, as you will have been told, affects us all individually in many different ways. My experience has so far not been as extreme as some but I am aware that my condition is progressive and since my diagnosis 10 years ago I have gradually lost the ability to do things I took for granted.

In no particular order: I can no longer write legibly; I have little strength in my hands and am very clumsy, regularly dropping stuff or bumping into things; I can’t easily turn over in bed or easily get up from lying down; I have poor balance and fall easily; and my speech is slurred when I am tired or talk for long.
 
I depend completely on a cocktail of drugs without which I become slow, shuffling, with a fixed expression and a brain thick with fog. Medication and surgery have helped me enormously but as every year goes by my condition worsens.

So, I arrive in class a bit stiff and achy to be greeted by the group and our dance leaders, all of whom I now consider good friends. We are blessed to have a lovely lady, Pam, who ensures we all have a tea or coffee and a biscuit on arrival and we have time to chat and see how everyone is feeling, how they have managed since we last met. This alone has a relaxing effect. I am amongst friends who understand how I feel, what I am coping with; some are fitter than me, some not so fit.

We start our class with visualisation and relaxation, which always manages to relax me further and then we gradually introduce arm and leg movement, some facial exercises and some speech exercise, like: “There was a thistle sifter, she had a sieve of sifted thistles.”

A good example of what we do was a Haka we dreamed up at the end of the last rugby season, with input from the class and our leaders. It was very funny to do but worked for us on several levels at the same time, incorporating the requirement for facial expression, sound, movement and memory of the order of movements. Laughter is a very important ingredient of our class; we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

So far in the class we have remained seated but those who can then stand and we continue with a series of movements designed to encourage us to greater mobility and better posture. By now I am sure an onlooker would see the difference in us; we are all just a bit looser, fitter, smiling, more mobile. I have forgotten the stiffness and aches and I am involved with the class. 

We generally have a theme we work on towards the end of the lesson. This has ranged from flamenco to outer space, the sea, the coastline, the waltz and recently “All that Jazz” from the musical Chicago.
  
The music chosen to accompany us is very important. We have a wide variety which covers most moods and styles. We finish in a seated circle with a light-hearted song and I always finish feeling more cheerful, more energised, more able to cope. The important elements in the class for me are inclusion, relaxation, laughter, a sense of achievement when we learn a routine or create a new one, and the feeling of collective creativity.  

Steff Streat
21 November 2017

Steff Streat is a founder member of the dance for Parkinson’s class she asked dance artist Rosie Hazell and Powys Dance to set up in Builth Wells, Powys, Mid Wales, in January 2014. Steff remains a regular at the weekly, free to attend Strictly Parkinson’s creative dance session, led by Rosie and Heidi Wilson (new members are welcome: t 07748 977 525  hwilson@cardiffmet.ac.uk).