PALMETTO — Movement helps slow the progression of Parkinson’s Disease. And what better way is there to move than dance?
The Sarasota Ballet wants to use dance to help Parkinson’s patients. Their dancers will be teaching classes at the Parkinson’s Expo presented by Neuro Challenge Foundation for Parkinson’s on Feb. 29 at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd.
It is the largest Parkinson’s educational event of its kind in the country, said Robyn Faucy-Washington, CEO of the Neuro Challenge Foundation for Parkinson’s.
Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disorder that is diagnosed in more than 60,000 Americans a year, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation, and an estimated 1 million people will be living with the disease in 2020.
The disease affects people in different ways. It is most commonly associated with tremors, but it can also impact memory, the digestive system and speech.
Movement, like ballet classes, can help, said Faucy-Washington.
“The only thing that can slow the progression of the disease is exercise," she said. "Medications only manage symptoms.”
In addition to educational panels, the expo will feature several hands-on activities to help people with Parkinson’s, including biking, boxing and ballet.
The Sarasota Ballet hosts hour-long Dancing Through Parkinson’s classes on the first and third Tuesdays of each month. Dancers will teach shortened versions of the ballet movements they’ll be using for their upcoming performance of “Romeo and Juliet” scheduled for March 27-28 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota.
Those dance moves have been made safe for Parkinson’s patients, said Sarasota Ballet education director Christopher Hird. Most of the moves can be done in a chair. The class focuses on posture and upper and lower body movements.
Classes will be set to the music that will be used in “Romeo and Juliet.” But the students will do more than just go through the motions — they’ll also learn the history of ballet.
Hird said the Sarasota Ballet wants to make dance accessible to everybody.
“Today the words diversity and inclusion are words that are very much part of a ballet company,” he said. “We want people to see ballet as welcoming and open."
The expo is free and includes lunch, but reservations are required.