Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

The Benefits of Dance for Parkinson’s Disease

May 01, 2016 12:03PM
by M.Teresa Vandergriff
Since Parkinson’s disease affects both body (e.g., tremors and slow movements) and mind (e.g., depression and isolation), dance is one way to help improve movement and quality of life. One program, Dance for PD (DfPD) has professional dancers/teachers guide participants through safe moves in ballet, Broadway jazz, improvisation and other styles.

In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Neural Transmission, Olie Westheimer and colleagues examined patients new to dance and DfPD. During 16 sessions, they explored whether changes in movement and/or quality of life could be observed, and what patients said about DfPD and quality of life. Their findings showed improved motor skills by an average of 10.4 percent, with gait improving by 26.7 percent. Participants also praised DfPD: “walking better; more fluid movements”; “enjoyed meeting other people with PD”; and “fun way to feel better on a daily basis” were typical comments.

A major vote of confidence: participants came back. The researchers observed consistently high DfPD attendance compared to other forms of exercise. “[These] benefits,” said Westheimer, “suggest that through exercise, camaraderie and the simple joy of movement, dance classes are effective [for] ending the isolation and inactivity that too often define living with PD.”

In the D.C. area, Bowen McCauley Dance offers seven free weekly DfPD sessions to patients and care partners. Teacher Lucy Bowen McCauley has been certified since 2008 by DfPD’s founders, Mark Morris Dance Group and Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group. For information, visit

Teresa Vandergriff, MSW, is a retired grant writing consultant and enthusiastic DfPD participant.


Global Brief
Health Brief