WPC 2016 successfully convened over 4000 participants from several nations. Represented were health professionals, scientists, researchers, artists, PwPs, caregivers and families. This diverse community, committed to fight PD, generously shared existing knowledge, reported on recent advances and future directions in treatments, enhanced QOL and the search for a cure. It also inspired and instilled a message of hope.
Among these voices, that of David Leventhal stood out. He is an iconic and highly esteemed figure within the PD community. He is known as a brilliant dancer, teacher, leader, passionate PD advocate, executive director of Dance for PD, a successful program of dance classes offered by the Mark Morris Dance Group. The program aims to enhance the well-being and quality of life of PwPs, caregivers, families and friends. Fifteen years since it was established in Brooklyn, NY, Dance for PD now flourishes in over 100 communities world wide.
David is also a great humanitarian. WPC 2016 recognized his outstanding contributions to the PD community and honored him with the World Parkinson Congress Award for Distinguish Contribution to the Parkinson Community.
David graciously agreed to be interviewed. Our conversation centered on the dance, its elements, and the many ways in which it informs and enhances the QOL of those living with PD. David’s observations, which I paraphrase below, are eminently clear and exquisitely generative.
- While dance training positively impacts well-being and quality of life, that is not its focus or objective. The participant never confronts PD. There is no motor symptom to address, or clinical problem to solve. PD is rarely mentioned, if at all. The task is learning to dance; how to become a dancer; how to think like one.
- Context matters. The dancer is not a health professional in a clinic but an artist hosting the learner in a studio, in a cultural community comprised of other dancers.
- The dance is about movement. The dancer, it follows, is a “movement specialist” with acquired skills in planning movements – how to consciously, intentionally, go from point A to point B, how to initiate it, sequencing it, terminating it. Movement is choreographed.
- Dancing calls for flexibility and stamina . The dancer, consequently, engages in daily practice – learning new movements and repeating those already learned. Through this discipline the dancer builds and maintains the essential body-mind-spirit connections that undergird movement.
- The dancer leverages the power of imagery. Lifting and holding another dancer in midair becomes possible when that dancer is imagined as a lighter being – a swan for example.
- The dancer does not critically judge a movement as good or bad or dysfunctional. More relevant is whether the dancer believes in it and assigns it meaning; whether a movement expresses what it aims.
- Dancing connects us to others. We rarely dance alone. Dancing promotes community.
- The dancer knows the energizing power of rhythm, of music and knows how to let self be guided by it. Music is the dancer’s main guide and coach.
- Dancing fosters self-confidence.
So, it is David’s view that these elements of movement training, once learned by participant, play a critical role in the everyday lives of those living with PD; they provide a template to assist effective adaptation.The science of PD has taken notice. Preliminary studies suggest support for David’s observations (see danceforpd.org).
David’s passionate work continues to unfold. Presently he, in collaboration with “augmented reality” software technologists, working on a wearable device to facilitate movement training. This line of exploration, it should be noted was recognized by WPC2016 as a ground breaking “hot topic”.
David is keen on the notion that art informs science and technology, which in turn informs art. He is at ease where these domains intersect.
He remains mindful, and wants us to do the same, that the essence of movement is joy – which we take for granted until PD makes its entrance and gradually begins to take it away. The dance offers us a way to re-experience joy.
Julio F. Angulo, Ph.D.
Offiicial WPC Blogger