By Richard Bell
The Old School Community Gathering Place is home to “Enhance Through Dance,” an innovative program that provides much-needed support to people suffering from neurodegenerative challenges of aging like Parkinson’s.
Karen Bradley, the co-chair of the Old School, has led the development of this program. Bradley was trained as a dance movement therapist, and is returning to the work after a 25-year academic career teaching theatre and dance, including chairing dance programs at Towson University and the University of Maryland, College Park.
“I’ve been interested in the neuroscience of movement, social emotional learning, trauma, and community-based dance practices,” Bradley said in an interview. “We started ‘Enhance Through Dance’ with a New Horizon’s grant in 2019 that called for us to run 10 sessions, and then to evaluate them, which we did. But the participants didn’t want to stop, so I volunteered to keep teaching the class every Friday morning.”
Covid restrictions shut down the in-person sessions, but Bradley moved the group online, with one-hour sessions on Tuesdays and Fridays. In 2021, she was working with Dance Nova Scotia on their province-wide program, “Dance for Health: Seniors.” “We applied for a provincial Age-Friendly grant to work specifically with people with Parkinson’s,” Bradley said. “I had three people with Parkinson’s at the Old School. Through this grant, we’re now training session leaders across the province on how to do ‘Dance for Health: Parkinson’s.”
Bradley explained that each session has three parts. “We start with calming and breathing exercises,” Bradley said, “to get people to connect with themselves. Then we shift to movements that organize the body, that get some energy moving, and get people standing up, something that can be challenging for people with Parkinson’s. The last section is about connecting with each other, dancing together, and finding joy and community.”
The sessions address some of the core difficulties of Parkinson’s, which often leaves someone feeling frozen, unable to move. “We work on flow, of getting people out of that frozen state,” Bradley said. “People with the characteristic tremours of Parkinson’s often get temporary relief. We also do some vocal work because another symptom of Parkinson’s is that the voice box gets frozen, so we free up voices, and our faces.
Bradley has accumulated an enormous playlist that she uses to selectively respond to what she sees that people need in a given class. “Some of the songs are brain calming,” Bradley said, “some of it is lilting, some of it is driving. This class is very fond of Frank Sinatra. I don’t plan these classes beyond having a theme, that may play out or not. In running a class, you’re observing and assessing and listening, asking where the challenges of the day are. Choices about what music to play next come out of all of this.”
There is plenty of research showing the benefits of getting people moving. “Most of the people in the Old School class don’t have Parkinson’s,” Bradley said. “People bring concerns about depression, memory, isolation, or just plain sore knees. What we’re doing works for more than Parkinson’s; it’s enlivening, engaging, energizing. It works.”
CBC recently did a 2:36 minute piece on November 8 after CBC reporter
Victoria Welland saw some of the class members dancing on a float in the August Pride Parade in Musquodoboit Harbour. You can watch this CBC report at https://vimeo.com/771367065/70b21e37fd OR https://vimeo.com/770018641/266e62da21
The class meets at the Old School every Friday at 11 AM. The Old School offers transportation through MusGo Rider for people who need a ride. For more information, call 902-889-2735, or email [email protected].
[Note: Karen Bradley is married to the author.]