Defying the bodily limitations of the disease, the only Dance for Parkinson’s “movement class” in Colorado Springs will perform a piece representing hope and freedom of the soul for the UCCS Aging Center’s 20th Anniversary Event on Sept. 19 at the Ent Center for the Arts.

The class, held at the Ormao Dance Co. in Colorado Springs, is based on the scientifically proven, positive effects of dance for treating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, such as stiffness and loss of balance. As well, the class is also focused on artistic expression. This type of class has other benefits, which instructor Laura Hymers Treglia says are hard to measure when applying for grants.

On a recent Friday at the class, held from 11 a.m. to noon at Ormao, attendees chatted and socialized. The “big social aspect,” of the class is an added “significant benefit” for Rick Arnold, a Broadmoor resident who has been attending for the past year. Isolation can be a challenge for people living with Parkinson’s disease when activities they once enjoyed become unmanageable because of tremors, stiffness or imbalance.

Arnold and Hymers Treglia said not many people in the area know about the class.

“It’s not very well discovered,” Arnold says. “I think there should be 100 people in it.” He estimates there are hundreds of folks dealing with Parkinson’s in the Springs area, whereas the class attendance hovers around 10.

Arnold hadn’t really danced before the Parkinson’s class. Golf and tennis were his main active hobbies.

“(It) was foreign to me,” he said. He eventually decided “It would be interesting to try.”

Arnold has been pleased with how it has helped both his memory and rigidity.

For the past few weeks, participants have used some of their class time to practice their performance piece entitled, “Soaring.”

Choreographed mainly by Hymers Treglia, the dance is inspired by the imagery and symbolism of crane birds.

“The way we’re playing with (the symbolic meaning) is: freedom, long life, hope, positive messages about aging … (and) life in different stages,” she shares.

A 10-year-old dancer will also join the group for the performance, during which an origami crane will be used as a prop. A colorful backdrop is also part of the set design. It will be an enlarged photo of an abstract watercolor painting created by a member of the Parkinson’s dance class.

Some members of the class are not performing because it makes them too nervous. But most agreed to perform after the Center for Aging reached out to Ormao with a request for “older dancers,” Treglia says. Some people will perform seated while others will move about on their feet.

Arnold mentioned he appreciates how in class the “talented” instructors adapt movements, with sensitivity to each person’s specific needs and stages of disease progression.

Ormao’s class is based on the approach of the trademarked “Dance for PD” program, headquartered at the Mark Morris Dance Studio in New York. The Dance for PD preparation requires teachers to be artists first, and trained as teachers of dance as well as “movement experts” before going on to become specifically trained to teach people with Parkinson’s. Hymers Treglia underwent the specialized training, after Jan Johnson, Ormao’s executive director, heard about the program and thought it might be a good fit.

Hymers Treglia says she wasn’t sure at first about teaching “different communities” of people, like those not interested in being dancers at a professional level. Yet now she’s discovered “how rewarding it is to work with all kinds of people with dance; and how you can see how dance is meaningful (to them).”

She relates how a nurse attending the Parkinson’s class as a care partner teared up repeatedly, touched by various aspects. Another care partner began contributing a donated amount each week even though his attendance was free because he said, “I get so much out of this.” Hymers Treglia also notices participants seem lighter on their way out, after coming in looking heavy and discouraged because of a bad day.

In addition to the expressiveness and contemplative benefits of dance, movement combinations to music such as clapping and stomping at the same time develop and restore balance. These actions link the cognitive to the physical in a powerful way. Neurologists regularly refer patients to dance and other physical activity for help with the progression of Parkinson’s disease symptoms.

In one Dance for PD video, a physician categorized the program’s benefits as being, “as good as other medicine.”

After Ormao started their version of the classes in Colorado Springs in December 2017 as an outreach component of the dance company and school at 10 S. Spruce St., they applied for funding. The Moniker Foundation, a couple of grants, and some private contributions support the class. Class fees, participant Rick Arnold points out, are “very affordable” — $5 for participants with Parkinson’s or free for care partners.

Hymers Treglia is enthusiastic about the upcoming, “group collaborative, creative project” at UCCS.

“This is such a great moment, we’re all working together… We’re building something that’s bigger than us. That’s always what dance is, but for those who haven’t experienced it, we’re making something. We depend on each other and connect with each other. (We’re) grateful to the aging center for thinking of having something like this.”

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