September 22, 2019 | 77° F

Rutgers dance team holds symposium centered around Parkinson's

For those suffering from Parkinson’s disease, the Dance Department at Mason Gross School of the Arts, the New Jersey Ballet and the Parkinson’s Information and Referral Service held a free one-day public symposium on Oct. 29.

Called “Moving Forward,” the symposium involved a dance class, films related to Parkinson’s disease and dance and a panel discussion on the disease’s research.

A "full house" of dancers and participants filled the Nicholas Music Center on the Douglass campus from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. for the event.

“We had a great turnout, and we hope to continue doing these annual symposiums for as long as we can,” said Colleen Klein, the graduate administrative assistant in the Dance Department at Mason Gross School of the Arts. “This was our second annual event, but along with that we have been having weekly dance classes on Wednesdays at Robert Wood Johnson and Saturdays at Mason Gross. It has really been a great experience for many of the people who come.”

Being the second annual symposium in back-to-back years, the program had been partnered up with the American Ballet Theatre.

“People loved it so much, they asked Jeff for more sessions,” Klein said. “I really enjoyed doing the movements as well.”

Pamela Quinn, a professional dancer with Parkinson’s disease, developed this style of dancing to help herself and presented it in front of the others at the symposium.

She has taught the group many dance forms and movements that helped her while suffering from the disease.

“With her dance background, Quinn was able to be more open with the participants and was also relatable,” said Jeff Friedman, director of the MFA Dance Program at Mason Gross School of the Arts. “She was also able to show them lots of different movements because of her background.”

There was a whole section of movements dedicated to facial movements and expressions since those facing Parkinson’s disease face difficulties in moving facial muscles and thus lose momentum when giving expressions or saying words. The participants were taught to move their facial muscles with their hands and fingers to allow the muscles to relax, said Friedman, an associate professor in the Department of Dance.

The participants were made to say their vowels loudly and clearly so the face can get accustomed to saying them and can get exercise as well.

“They were yelling and shouting their As and Os to get their focus on those vowels,” Klein said.

The dance movements also involved putting their arms over their heads and getting up out of one’s chair. Friedman said these exercises were necessary in order to get the participants accustomed to maintaining balance after changing motions in day-to-day activities.

During the film portion of the evening, several films were shown related to the topics of dance, therapy and the prevention of Parkinson’s disease. These films were “With Grace,” “Smaller,” “Neurodance,” “Portrait of two Artists,” “Planting Hope” and “Power Forward,” which all were meant to teach audience members how to relate and learn from dance to solve their problems, according to New Brunswick Today.

Along with these experiences, the panel discussion included speakers at the event like David Tamaki, a certified instructor from the New Jersey Ballet, Natalie Schultz-Kahawaty, a doctoral researcher, Shabbar Danish, chief neurological surgeon at the Robert Wood Johnson Section of Neurosurgical Oncology, and Friedman, according to New Brunswick Today.

Tamaki, who works alongside Friedman, spoke about the 2015 Dance and Parkinson’s program held at Rutgers and about the new classes offered in the 2015-2016 year. Along with Tamaki, Schultz-Kahwaty, an adaptive movement specialist, discussed her recently completed Ph.D. dissertation on dance and Parkinson’s disease and reported on her completed research.

Danish spoke about his research as well.

According to New Brunswick Today, Friedman, one of the event's main organizers, and Quinn were long-time associates who danced together at the Oberlin Dance Collective in San Francisco, a dance company created in the early 1970s at the Oberlin College in Ohio.

After losing touch for some time after the 1980s, the two reunited for the cause in 2003. Quinn was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease before they met. But impressed by Quinn's work and the coping strategies she developed through dance and movement, Friedman decided to start the Dance and Parkinson's disease program, according to New Brunswick Today.

While organizing the event, there were not many difficulties, and instead the organizers received positive feedback, as many wanted symposiums occur more often, Klein said.

“There was a volunteer who stayed there the whole time because he loved it so much,” Klein said. “The takeaway from the event was simply, community. The best way to continue practicing and continuing the ideas taught was to attaching oneself with a community that is always practicing. It is always good to plug yourself with folks who are good at managing Parkinson’s disease, especially people at Rutgers University.”

In order to help those who suffer, Friedman said that it is necessary that people come and volunteer because not only will they be helping out during class sessions, but also because they too will feel good and enjoy the positive environment.

Keshav Pandya

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