From the lab to the dancefloor: Investigating benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s

Tue, 26 Feb 2019 09:01:00 GMT

Dance is becoming increasingly popular as a therapeutic activity for people living with Parkinson’s disease, with evidence suggesting that dance can have beneficial effects on movement, mood and cognition.

Following on from their recent laboratory studies on action representation in Parkinson’s, Judith Bek and Ellen Poliakoff of the Body, Eyes and Movement (BEAM) Lab have been investigating how observing, imitating and imagining movement might contribute to the benefits of dance in Parkinson’s disease. These processes are known to activate brain areas involved in producing movement, as well as having a role in empathy and social interaction. Dance naturally utilises observation, imitation and imagery. The use of action representations in dance, such as using imagery to enhance movement quality, may translate into strategies to facilitate everyday tasks and activities. Additionally, imagery and imitation in dance may help to improve communicative actions such as facial expressions and gestures, which can be affected in Parkinson’s.

“More than Movement” was a collaborative project conducted in partnership with English National Ballet and social enterprise Equilibrium Dance and Arts. The project investigated a dance programme co-developed with dance artists, physiotherapists and people with Parkinson’s, which drew on aspects of ballet and bharatnatyam (classical Indian dance), and incorporated the use of imagery and imitation.

A pilot study involved a 6-week trial of the dance programme with 10 people with Parkinson’s, and potential outcomes were explored using quantitative and qualitative measures. Preliminary results suggested that the dance programme may help to improve everyday mobility and hand movements, as well as mood and well-being, although further research is needed to explore these effects.