Inspired by English National Ballet’s therapeutic dance project for people with Parkinson’s, retired PA Sue Screaton found herself thinking ‘why can’t we have something like that in Huddersfield?’
And so the 69-year-old from Shelley, who was diagnosed with the progressive neurological condition two years ago, advertised for a dance teacher to lead classes tailored to the needs of those with mobility problems. “I’d rung a couple of dance centres in Huddersfield to see if they did anything for people who are disabled, but I couldn’t find any classes,” said Sue. “I thought we could start our own.”
Her advert was answered by performing arts teacher Lucy Kimmings, who also lives in Shelley. She said she was willing to devise a programme for people with Parkinson’s, MS, arthritis and other conditions.
Lucy’s Dance For Those With Movement Restrictions classes began just a few weeks ago in Shelley Village Hall and have already attracted a regular following of up to 10 people - mostly women - around half of whom have Parkinson’s.
Sue says the weekly sessions, based on ballet exercises, have proved to be all she had hoped. She explained: “Exercise is crucial for people with Parkinson’s because you need to keep your muscles going. But the classes are also a social outlet and very enjoyable. You are with like minded people. And Lucy is totally brilliant and so intuitive of people’s needs.”
English National Ballet’s Parkinson’s dance project currently provides ballet-based classes in London, Liverpool, Ipswich, Cardiff and Oxford. Last year the company published the findings of a three-year study into the effects of dance on people with Parkinson’s and concluded that the programme boosted not just physical wellbeing but improved self confidence, levels of optimism and the ability of patients to manage their symptoms.
Lucy, who is a former secondary school teacher and a partner in Lark Studios, a joint arts venture with her msuician husband Richard, says the new classes are a departure from her usual line of work. She explained: “I teach piano and singing at home and dance in schools. I’ve worked with very young children and teenagers but never with adults. I’ve taken advice from Parkinson’s Nurse Sarah Higgins and consulted occupational therapists about the best ways to get people with limited mobility to exercise and I’ve drawn up a programme of chair exercise, barre work using a chair back, and moving around. The exercises can be adapted for people in wheelchairs and no-one has to attempt more than they feel happy with.”
Sue, who also has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which she describes as a ‘double whammy’ alongside Parkinson’s, says the hour-long sessions (every Monday morning from 10.30am at Shelley Village Hall) are suitable for those with a wide range of physical disabilities and all ages. Group members range in age from their 50s to 80s and include wheelchair user Joyce Nugent, 76, from Skelmanthorpe, who attends with the help of family members. Joyce, a Parkinson’s patient, was diagnosed with the condition 20 years ago and suffers with stiffening in her lower limbs and tremors in her arms and hands. Her daughter, Anita Catstree, who usually brings her to the class, says: “She hasn’t been to anything like this before, it’s absolutely brilliant.”
Pauline Halstead, 74, from Kirkheaton, another Parkinson’s patient, is hoping that the classes will help her to improve strength and mobility. “I have a walking stick now and sometimes feel off-balance, as if I’m going to fall, “she says, “the Parkinson’s Nurse told me about the classes. They’re very good.”
Lucy believes the classes could benefit many more people with disabilities but acknowledges that the word ‘dance’ in the title might be deterring men from joining.
She said: “We do have a husband and wife who come together because the wife needs support in terms of balance - and the husband often joins in too. But we’d like to see more men coming along for the social support as well as exercise.”
As Sue confirms: “Even if you are too tired to exercise you can sit and listen to some of the fantastic music that Lucy uses and it helps you to relax. And there’s definitely a huge benefit in coming along and meeting other people.”
* For more details of the dance-based exercise sessions, which cost £5 for an hour, call Lucy on 07779 235514 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
According to the Parkinson’s UK charity, around 1 in every 500 people has Parkinson’s. That’s 127,000 patients in the UK. However, there are no straight-forward tests for the condition and many people live with symptoms for some time before being diagnosed.
The progressive neurological condition is caused by a lack of the brain chemical dopamine. Common symptoms are tremors, slowness, rigidity, fatigue and depression. Loss of brain cells that produce dopamine create a variety of symptoms, which may vary from sufferer to sufferer.
Exercise is helpful because it enables patients to maintain muscle mass and strength. It is also thought that exercise can help to protect the dopamine-producing cells in the brain.
Current treatments often involve drug therapies to replace the missing dopamine but, unfortunately, many have serious side effects. Parkinson’s UK is funding 30 research projects exploring new treatments for Parkinson’s, including stem cell and gene therapies.
For more information on the condition visit www.parkinsons.org.uk