Moving Through Parkinson’s dances across Europe
Moving Through Parkinson’s, a CSU Dance program that is affiliated with CSU’s Center for Healthy Aging, traveled to Austria and Poland this past March to share workshops and teaching techniques with rehabilitation clinics and hospitals that assist people living with Parkinson’s (PWP). Regina Stemberger, a doctor of physical and rehabilitation medicine, invited MTP to Europe in my capacity as director and founder of the program. We visited Innsbruck, Vienna, and Bad Hall, Austria, as well as Katowice University in Katowice, Poland. Joining me was Fort Collins-based physical therapist John Zapanta, P.T., D.P.T, who presented virtually, and music therapist Grazyna Leja-Franczyk, a graduate student at Katowice University.
The workshops were well received and have subsequently inspired the development of similar programming at some of the European sites. From a top neuro unit in a Vienna hospital to rural rehabilitation clinics, participants ranged from neurologists, psychiatrists, physio-therapists, and researchers, to PWP, care partners, and community organizers.
During the trip, I was reminded of the universal connections between movement, music, community and healing – connections that invite physical and emotional engagement as well as collaboration and problem solving together. We celebrated shared goals, developed new relationships and ultimately improved overall well-being in our European travels.
History of MTP
I have been developing teaching methods and interactive strategies around movement as therapy for PWP for the past decade, and my role on the CSU Dance faculty has evolved to prioritize pedagogy and dance education in that time. Part of the dance majors’ training includes outreach and engagement in the community, providing opportunities to work in the field and integrating the arts in a therapeutic setting. This involvement led me to volunteer in the CSU Music Therapy program, where I worked in community classes for PWP and individuals with movement disorders.
Encouraged by Sarah Johnson, M.M., M.T.-B.C., and physical therapist Ruth Rice, P.T., D.P.T., I established Moving Through Parkinson’s for individuals with early onset diagnoses and/or a relatively high level of mobility. MTP has continued to work closely with music therapy faculty and students, the CSU Occupational Therapy department, and CSU Dance. Students from these programs receive practicum credit, collaborate on research projects and/or gain internship credit while supporting the program and participants. CSU’s Center for Healthy Aging has been a key supporter of the program in providing space and program support since the Center opened.
The concept of dance and movement as therapy for people living with Parkinson’s isn’t new and is endorsed and supported by medical professionals and institutions, research centers, artists and somatic practitioners worldwide. The MTP approach includes integration of live music, multi-generational participation and cross-disciplinary activities supporting a holistic, multidimensional approach to healing and care.
In Europe, the same principles of community, support, and connection proved universally foundational. Despite cultural differences, language barriers and varying life experiences, the desire to feel better, support each other, and have fun was found everywhere.
For Zapanta, many of his clients live with movement disorders. He believes in the value of arts-integrated therapy and was able to support and enhance the sessions within a medical and scientific framework. Leja-Franczyk, who visited CSU last fall and worked with me in my classes, returned to Poland afterwards for her studies. When I asked if she could join the MTP sessions in Austria, she was happy to make the trip! Her accompaniment was integral to each session and has inspired continued collaborations with music therapists in several of the venues visited. With the CSU/Katowice connections, I visited the university as a last stop on my travels to present to the music therapy students and faculty there, and I was warmly and enthusiastically received.
This trip reinforced my love of collaboration and the value of approaching care and healing with relationship-building at its core. In MTP, we listen to understand and engage on personal, physical and emotional levels. The outcomes are almost always positive and inspiring, which encourages practitioners to reach across differences to embrace varied approaches and methodologies to improve the lives of others.
Of course, central to our work are the individuals and care partners living with Parkinson’s. I am continually inspired by their courage, determination and vulnerability as they face the challenges of a debilitating movement disorder. Each individual brings their life experience to the class, to share in the community and support each other in the process. I’m grateful for their trust and partnership.
MTP is supported in part by the Parkinson’s Association of the Rockies. Participants can join in-person or virtual classes from across the Front Range. For additional information on MTP, visit this link. Interested in learning more? Listen to the CHA podcast “living healthy longer” to hear Morgan discuss the cognitive advantages of movement through dance.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lisa Morgan is a dance educator and movement specialist who has been working in the field for more than 25 years. She is on the faculty at CSU’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance and is an affiliate faculty member of the Center for Healthy Aging.