School of Arts and Humanities News

People with Parkinson's Express Themselves in Instructor's Dance Class


About 30 to 40 people with Parkinson’s disease are expressing themselves through movement in a class taught by UT Dallas instructor Misty Owens.

About 30 to 40 people with Parkinson’s disease are expressing themselves through movement in a class taught by UT Dallas instructor Misty Owens.

According to UT Dallas dance faculty member Misty Owens, dancing is considerably more than it seems. The movements and motions are obvious, but Owens said it’s about the physical and mental process of thought, emotions and inspiration that create the expression of dance.

Each week, in addition to teaching her classes at UT Dallas, Owens utilizes that philosophy as she leads dance classes for individuals who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease — a neurodegenerative disorder that affects movement. She said she tries to surprise and challenge the class with choreography meant to stimulate the mind and body, while nurturing and encouraging them through the shared experience of dance.

Owens is one of three founding teachers of Dance for Parkinson’s Disease at the Mark Morris Dance Group. In 2003, she began teaching the classes, called Dance for PD, in Brooklyn, New York.

Locally, the group of 35 to 40 people meets twice a week in a spacious dance studio at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. The Dance for PD class includes various traditional dance styles such as modern, ballet, jazz, tap and world dance. The majority of the time is devoted to movements that are done while seated, then standing with support, then walking and dancing without support.

One of the class participants, Bobbi Myers, said she began taking ballet lessons when she was 7 years old and continued dancing, eventually joining the Sacramento Ballet Company in California. She said that while she experiences some frustration that her movements have been curtailed, she said the class feeds her soul.

“It’s more than just a dance class; it’s a community support system. We care about each other, and we try to support each other as we travel through this journey with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders,” Myers said.

While each participant’s experience is different, many say the disease’s progression has been slowed or, in some cases, they have experienced smoother movements since they joined the dance class and participated in other physical activities.

In every dance class she teaches, Owens focuses on creating movements that inspire and challenge students’ physical and mental barriers through confidence building.

Read the entire story on the UT Dallas News Center.