From next month, the Queens Theater is teaming up with the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) to present their internationally acclaimed show Dance program for the PP in English and Mandarin, making its adaptive dance program for people with Parkinson’s disease accessible to millions of Mandarin-speaking people with mobility challenges around the world.
The free classes will be held twice a month beginning Sunday, January 9 at 2 p.m. at the Cabernet Theater, offering in-person and online classes. The program is open to people with Parkinson’s disease, their families, friends and care partners, and anyone with mobility issues.
“We are thrilled and excited to have this program here. This presents a really great opportunity for us to reach out to a part of our community who are our neighbours,” said Jay Rogers of Queens Theatre. “We have a very large Chinese community in Flushing and an opportunity for us to connect with them and also provide this class as a service.”
According to Rogers, who has had close ties with MMDG and Dance for PD for more than a decade, he had wanted to bring the program to Queens when he started working at the Queens Theatre. However, due to the circumstances at the time, the opportunity was not there, he said.
Now that the Queens Theater is able to partner with the MMDG to serve the community, Rogers said he is excited about the program and its future, as they are also planning a series of bilingual classes in Spanish and English to launch at spring.
“It’s kind of an amazing thing to see people being able to reconnect with their physical being in a way that’s been degraded by this disease,” Rogers said. “This is where we start, but we hope to expand it and make it a mainstay in the community to provide this type of assistance and service to people with the disease.”
In each class, participants engage with a teaching artist and each other during a 50-minute movement session based on ballet, modern dance, tap, jazz, traditional and cultural forms and the repertoire of Mark Morris Company.
During the pandemic, the courses moved to a virtual format and attracted more than 2,000 participants from 38 countries around the world. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Dance for PD now reaches over 10,000 participants worldwide through its affiliate network and online.
Dance for PD in Mandarin is led by specially trained instructors Coco Cao, Nico Li and Jun Zhou. Each session includes a welcome and introduction, a 50-minute movement experience tailored to the mobility issues often associated with Parkinson’s disease, and small group conversation time. All classes are accompanied by live music.
“Our dancers with Parkinson’s want to relate to the movement they have a connection to, and that’s part of what drives them,” said Dance for PD program director David Leventhal. “In New York, that often means bringing movement from Broadway shows or elements of traditions like salsa that have deep New York roots.”
Evidence from over 40 peer-reviewed scientific studies serves to support the effectiveness and benefits of dance teaching practice for the PYP.
The class has significant and measurable benefits on functional mobility, ability to walk and balance, as well as cognitive function, mood and sense of social engagement and social connection, Leventhal said.
While in-person classes are being conducted, they will also be streamed over Zoom for those who are not comfortable or able to come to the facility.
The program, administered by MMDG, began as a unique collaboration between MMDG and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group (BPG). The program was launched in 2001, after BPG Chief Executive Olie Westheimer approached MMDG with the initial idea for a class.
“Olie had a unique idea that a dance class taught by professional dancers could benefit his support group members,” Leventhal said. “She wanted it to be a program based on dance as an art form, not therapy or group exercises. Our approach is artistic and creative, making it transformative and motivating for people with dementia. Parkinson’s disease.
In 2003, MMDG began offering the program on tour in other cities where they performed. In 2008, the program expanded to Manhattan, Queens, Bronx and Staten Island.
According to Leventhal, the Queens Theater has been an exceptional partner in planning the rollout of the Dance for PD programme.
“The Queens Theater represents a great opportunity for this program to deepen its roots in Queens, and for us to engage with the Mandarin and Spanish-speaking populations of Queens, who are significant in size, and we are delighted to be able to work the Queens Theater to expand programming for these populations,” Levanthal said.
For Leventhal, the course is not only about language, but also about culture.
“There will be featured dances from Spanish-speaking cultures, mostly Latin. In Chinese cultural dances that are part of the history and cultural lineage of the people taking the course, it is this familiarity and respect for cultural forms from around the world that is as important as the language element,” said Leventhal.
All PD dance classes will be bilingual in Mandarin and English, and future bilingual classes in Spanish and English are scheduled to begin in March 2022.