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‘Inspiring and powerful’

Rose White • Jan 24, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Jan White walked around Spotlight Dance Academy and smiled.

“It’s fun to be in a place where there are dancers rather than doctors and therapists,” she said.

White is the coordinator of a new class at the Grand Haven dance studio called Dancing for Parkinson’s.

On Jan. 11, White launched the class, which focuses on movements that benefit people with Parkinson’s disease. She had the idea after visiting Brooklyn and attending the flagship studio for the Dance for PD program. Dance for PD started 15 years ago in New York, and it has helped launch more than 120 programs worldwide.

“I didn’t think they would let me participate, but the best thing you can do is learn it,” White said about her visit to Dance for PD.

In the class, White was paired with a tall, slender woman who was shaking. White said that when the music started, the woman “transformed into a very strong, confident person who was moving smoothly and didn’t tremor.”

“After that, I was hooked. I couldn’t believe the difference,” White said.

Parkinson’s disease affects the amount of dopamine in the brain, which means someone struggles to control their movements. Often times, people with Parkinson’s have slight tremors and stiff limbs, and struggle with balance.

Dancing for Parkinson’s aims to address those problems.

“Movement is very important for our bodies,” said Mimi Dunne, the assistant teacher at the Grand Haven class. “For people with Parkinson’s, they are benefitting from a range of motion.”

White added: “Besides being helpful physically, it’s inspiring and powerful, and it makes you feel normal.”

After White returned from Brooklyn, she looked for a similar class in the West Michigan area. There was one in Grand Rapids, but White dreamed of having one closer to the lakeshore.

She ended up receiving a grant from the Parkinson’s Association of West Michigan, which helped her get the local program off the ground.

At the second session of the class, more than 10 people sat on chairs in a circle around two instructors. They followed along with the teachers, doing things from Broadway-style dancing to tango-like movements.

Kaymary Rettig attended the second class after having gone to the Grand Rapids one a few times.

“I love the classes,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in dancing, so I’ve been thrilled to dance again.”

Cathy Gamby is the head teacher, and she has provided movement therapy for older adults at The Little Red House in Spring Lake for 10 years.

“I’ve been happy with the willingness of participants to step out of their comfort zone and try something that will help their disease,” she said.

Not everyone who attends the class has Parkinson’s disease. In fact, White hopes that more people who don’t have the disease will join the class. Friends, family members, caregivers and people from the community are welcome to be a part of it.

“They can be a support,” White said.

Dancing for Parkinson’s is a weekly class, but it’s more than that. Most people who attend can empathize with each other, and they understand what it is like to live with Parkinson’s disease.

“There’s a real sense of community,” Gamby said. “It’s a beautiful addition.”

Dancing for Parkinson’s meets on Wednesdays from 1:30-2:30 p.m. at Spotlight Dance Academy, 1445 Columbus Ave.

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