Art and science: the benefits of dance in Parkinson’s disease

As a graduate student, I volunteered at my local community centre and the manager assigned me to run one of the weekly exercise classes offered to older people in the community. I found this experience highly rewarding and I was impressed by the enthusiasm of participants. The highlight of each class was teaching a series of dance steps ranging from the foxtrot and the Charleston to the twist and the waltz. I was not very coordinated and I often forgot the dance steps, but participants always seemed to enjoy themselves.


My dance instructor days are long gone, but dance continues to be a popular form of physical activity in older people (Kattenstroth et al., 2010). The benefits of dance on health and well being have also captured the attention of those that work with individuals with Parkinson’s disease. This neurodegenerative movement disorder is characterized by resting tremor, bradykinesia, rigidity, and postural instability and gait difficulty. Unfortunately, these gait and posture deficits are associated with an increased risk of falls (Paul et al., 2014a,b; Robinson et al., 2005). Dance is wonderful form of physical activity for an ageing population and individuals with Parkinson’s disease because it involves rhythmic motor coordination and challenges balance. Furthermore, dance offers auditory, visual and sensory stimulation, social interaction, motor learning, emotional perception and expression, as well as memorization (Kattenstroth et al., 2010). Because dance programs are social, enjoyable and engaging, they typically have a high level of compliance.




Several studies have focused on the benefits of dance in individuals with Parkinson’s disease and the results seem promising!  For example, Foster et al. (2013) found that individuals with Parkinson’s disease had higher levels of participation in instrumental, leisure and social activities following a 12-month randomized controlled trial of a community-based tango dance. Dance also appears to impact the motor impairment and disease progression of individuals with Parkinson’s disease (Duncan & Earhart, 2012). Specifically, a 12-month dance program led to a reduction in the motor evaluation component of the unified Parkinson’s disease rating scale (UPDRS), as well as improvements in clinical measures of physical function such as the 6-minute walk test and the 9-hole peg test. Finally, there is evidence from Professor Rumyana Kristeva’s group in Germany that dance classes lead to immediate benefits in the disease state of those suffering from Parkinson’s disease and that ongoing participation in such programs leads to improved quality of life in patients as well as their caregivers (Heiberger et al., 2011).



The importance of this field of research are clear from videos of individuals with Parkinson’s disease participating in a dance program and I hope that a young graduate student (more coordinated than I was, hopefully) is brave enough to teach me a few new dance moves when I get older!


Update: A fortuitous visit from Professor Graham Kerr

Professor Kerr visited Neuroscience Research Australia on the 26th of March, 2015 and we had several enjoyable and productive meetings. Over lunch we discussed the topic of this blog post and we were pleased to hear that Professor Kerr was already aware of (and involved with!) dance as an intervention for individuals with Parkinson’s disease. The Queensland dance program was recently highlighted in My Weekly Preview (see page 16) and Dance Australia, as well as in a Channel 7 news report (below; trouble viewing this video? Click on this link).




Dance for Parkinson’s Australia website.

Duncan RP, Earhart GM (2012). Randomized controlled trial of community-based dancing to modify disease progression in Parkinson disease. Neurorehabil Neural Repair. 26:132-43.

Foster ER, Golden L, Duncan RP, Earhart GM (2012). Community-based Argentine tango dance program is associated with increased activity participation among individuals with Parkinson’s disease. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 94:240-9.

Heiberger L, Maurer C, Amtage F, Mendez-Balbuena I, Schulte-Mönting J, Hepp-Reymond MC, Kristeva R (2011). Impact of a weekly dance class on the functional mobility and on the quality of life of individuals with Parkinson’s disease. Front Aging Neurosci 3:14. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2011.00014.

Kattenstroth JC, Kolankowska I, Kalisch T, Dinse HR (2010) . Superior sensory, motor, and cognitive performance in elderly individuals with multi-year dancing activities. Front Aging Neurosci 2 pii: 31. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2010.00031.

Paul SS, Allen NE, Sherrington C, Heller G, Fung VS, Close JC, Lord SR, Canning CG (2014a).Risk factors for frequent falls in people with Parkinson’s disease. J Parkinsons Dis 4:699-703.

Paul SS, Sherrington C, Canning CG, Fung VS, Close JC, Lord SR (2014b). The relative contribution of physical and cognitive fall risk factors in people with Parkinson’s disease: a large prospective cohort study. Neurorehabil Neural Repair 28:282-90.

Robinson K, Dennison A, Roalf D, Noorigian J, Cianci H, Bunting-Perry L, Moberg P, Kleiner-Fisman G, Martine R, Duda J, Jaggi J, Stern M (2005). Falling risk factors in Parkinson’s disease. NeuroRehabilitation 20:169-82.

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