Dance for Parkinson’s

Date: Every Friday from 15 September 2017 – Friday 1st December 2018 (no class Friday 3rd November)

Time: 11:30 – 13:00

Venue: DanceHouse, 1 Foley Street, Dublin 1

Admission: 5euro (tea/coffee included)

Teacher: Ailish Claffey, assisted by Olwyn Lyons

Classes are led by professional dance artist, Ailish Claffey who has advanced training in Dance for P.D. with David Leventhal, Mark Morris Dance Company, Brooklyn, US.

Ailish is Dancer in Residence at Tallaght Hospital (AMNCH), based in The Age Related Health Care Unit. This role is kindly supported by South Dublin County Council, The Meath Foundation and The Arts Council, Ireland. Ailish has recently been awarded Dance Artist in Residence at Rua Red Arts Centre, Tallaght, kindly funded by The Arts Council, Ireland.

Class is open to all and we welcome care givers, spouses and friends to join in.

Kindly supported by Dance Ireland



The benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s have been well documented and supported by organisations such as Move4Parkinson’s. Hear from Dance for PD Program Director David Leventhal on how ‘thinking like a dancer’ can aid the management of Parkinson’s. We welcome care givers, spouses and friends to join class. The cost of each class is €5 and includes tea/coffee.

Classes are led by professional dance artist, Ailish Claffey who has trained in Dance for P.D. and is Dance Artist in Residence at Tallaght Hospital.

If DanceHouse isn’t near to you, check out Dance Theatre of Ireland’s classes (Dun Laoghaire).

Want to know more?  Listen to the talk given by Ailish Claffey & Arts, Health and Wellbeing Officer at Kildare County Council, Carolann Courtney on the topic of Dance and Health or watch our Dance for Parkinson’s film below.

Dance classes for people with Parkinson’s Disease                                  Ailish Claffey

Dance classes held in a professional dance studio at DanceHouse, the home of Dance Ireland – Irelands representative body for dance in Ireland.

Context is everything! This supports the view that class participants are in fact dancers and are treated as such with the professional facilities for dance. Ie sprung floor, ballet barre, mirrors etc.

Health and safety considerations

Always a second dance leader present.

Safety in movement choices ie. avoiding any abrupt transitional movements while standing or any extravagant movements of the head and neck.

  • Tea / coffee provided beforehand – provides an opportunity to chat before class.
  • Allows dance teacher to get a sense of the mood of the group and identify any needs that may be present.
  • How can teacher support participants to partake in class and or adapt anything that may be necessary?
  • Music used encompasses a dynamic range of qualities in order to aid participants embody dynamic range of movement qualities and assist new ways of moving.
  • A combination of demonstration, verbal cues, counting, imagery, use of the mirror and partner work are used to deliver class.

Class is divided into 3 sections

  1. Seated warm up
  • Waking up the body. Awakening sensory awareness using touch, breath, voice, facial expression, connecting to the group and oneself. 
  • Beginning with slow sequential movement, moving together as a group finding connection with the breath, support into the ground in order to find freedom and ease in the body. Flexing, extending and rotating the spine.
  • Using clear rhythmic movement and cues to coordinate movements from core to distal.
  • Feet and leg movement alternating rhythm, marching, tango etc.
  • Igniting the imagination, connecting to it and allowing the movement to expand and bring you further.
  • Reaching arm movements away from the base of support.
  • Whole body organisation, working from upper body/lower body /body halves to cross lateral movement.
  • Introduction of improvisation

2.   Ballet barre / moving through the space

  • Using support to connect weight through the body into the feet and into the floor. Awareness of weight, transference of weight, bringing awareness to posture, breath, balance, feeling secure and grounded before moving through space.
  • Moving through space the group has the added challenge of navigating around, through, in-between bodies in space, aware of their own body as well as in proximity to others.
  • Exploring spacial relationships and pathways. Introducing arm and leg co-ordinations, whole body co-ordinations.
  • Becoming aware of ones own affinity of movement and then focus on developing range of effort qualities.
  • Inclusion of contrasting effort qualities included into sequences of movement. eg flicks/punches.

3.    Group dance incorporating elements of improvisation

  • Fun, upbeat movement sequence incorporating various spatial patterns leaving room for sections of improvisation and creative timing!
  • To end, a warm down incorporating the opening seated sequential sequence.
  • Adding and altering the dynamic qualities.
  • Maintaining the improvisational nature, incorporating strands of movements visited within the class.
  • Each person contributing their own personal movement, either taken from within the class as is, altered or entirely devised themselves.
  • Ending all together in a circle letting the energy settle and calm connection resonate.

Participants often stay and chat after class sharing experiences.

Motto for class

Be BRAVE. Dance brave, live brave

Commit to the movement, do it bold and proud

Don’t be afraid of getting anything wrong, be inventive and most of all enjoy!


Class encompasses many Functional movements used in everyday life, reaching bending etc. but according to *Bateson (2010)

“These functional movements, when taught within a dance context, demand more random balance perturbations and challenge a wider range of motion and variety of dynamics not readily encountered in daily living.”

*Feasibility of an Intensive Trial of Modern Dance for Adults with Parkinson Disease

Glenna Batson, Complementary Health Practice Review 2010 15: 65

Many of the elements practiced within a dance class are conducive to motor learning, such as:

  • repetition with variation,
  • part- and whole body coordinated activities,
  • memory and recall,
  • and mental practice of motor imagery (Schmidt & Lee, 2005).
  • Improvisation encourages the development of problem solving rather than imitating. Participants generate movement on their own.


Effects of Improvisational Dance on Balance in Parkinson’s Disease: A Two-Phase fMRI Case Study. Glenna BatsonSara James MigliareseChristina SorianoJonathan H. Burdette & Paul J. Laurienti

Pages 188-197 | Received 13 Sep 2013, Accepted 21 May 2014, Published online: 02 Jul 2014


Aims: This two-phase pilot examined the effects of group-delivered improvisational dance on balance in people with Parkinson’s disease. Subsequently, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was examined in one individual for changes in whole-brain functional network connectivity. 

Methods: In Phase I, seven community-dwelling adults (mean age 67) with middle stage Parkinson’s disease completed a 7-week improvisation dance series. In Phase II, one participant from the pilot group underwent brain scanning following a 5-day trial of dance. 

Results: Group pretest-posttest balance comparisons from Phase I were significant on the Fullerton Advanced Balance Scale (p = 0.017). Posttest scans in Phase II exhibited significantly increased network connectivity between the basal ganglia and premotor cortices. 

Conclusions: Improvisational dance resulted in functional gains in balance for people with Parkinson’s disease and merits further exploration. For one participant, functional improvements appeared to correlate with emergence of higher order neural functioning.


Testimonial from class participant

I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s a number of years ago. Part of the advice I received was to keep active both mentally and physically.

I started a Dance for Parkinson’s class, with Ailish Claffey, in Foley Street about 3 years ago.  The class covers everything from head and toes including fingers.  This is done to music selected by Ailish and this can range from Oklahoma Rose, to Rum and Coke, Queen,  Johnny Cash, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man and classical music.  My favourites are the dance routine to the Marino Waltz, Another bites the Dust and Dicey Reilly.  These dance movements devised by Ailish have contributed greatly to my balance, flexibility and stride.  Your body feels loose and my walking improves.  Overall there is a great sense of well being.  The full value and benefit of these classes are only felt when you stop during vacation periods.  The atmosphere created in the class by Ailish allows you the freedom to lose your inhibitions and move freely.

A side benefit enjoyed is the social activity of meeting new people, chatting over tea and biscuits.  The conversations are not limited to Parkinson’s condition.  It makes the class a fun based activity, something to look forward to attending.

On a side note, my grandnephew, Matthew, (5) wants to know what exercises I do in class.  We do the exercises together. The other day, Matthew wanted to know if I could stand on one foot with both my arms extended. Not at the moment but with Dance anything is possible.

Why is dance is particularly beneficial for people with Parkinson’s Disease?

Drawing from Mark Morris Dance for Parkinsons:

  • Dance develops flexibility and instills confidence.
  • Dance is a stimulating mental activity that connects body and mind.
  • Dance creates a sense of community and breaks isolation.
  • Dance uses imagery and evokes graceful movement.
  • Dance focuses attention on eyes, ears and touch as tools to assist in movement and balance.
  • Dance increases awareness of where all parts of the body are in space.
  • Dance tells stories.
  • Dance sparks creativity.
  • Dance uses and brings our attention to many different rhythms.
  • The essence of dance is joy.

Parkinson’s disease (PD), is a degenerative neurological disorder that affects muscle control, balance, and coordination, among other things.

Mark Morris have developed the first training available to dance teachers to work with those with Parkinsons Disease. It has been a huge success worldwide and the benefits are overwhelming as more and more research is being conducted and information is becoming more readily available. I have seen it myself firsthand, participating in Dance for Parkinsons classes at The Mark Morris Dance Studios in Brooklyn during my training. Chatting with participants afterwards was a great insight to how treasured, unique and appreciated the classes are for participants, their spouses, families and carers alike.

Following the success of the initial 6 week pilot programme, kindly supported by Dance Ireland classes resume 30 November 2015. Dance classes are of great benefit for people with Parkinson’s disease, their caregivers, spouses and partners as a way of temporarily easing the isolation, frustrations, and impairments of the disease.

The rigorous dance class is delivered to a level of excellence. It integrates movement from contemporary, tap, jazz and ballet techniques to stretch arms, strengthen legs, engage minds and stimulate imaginations. Throughout the class, there is no mention of the disease or symptoms thus participants think of themselves as dancers not patients. The participants condition is acknowledged but it is not the sole focus of the class, thus allowing a sense of dignity and empowerment. This class is powerful in helping participants regain physical confidence in their own bodies.

Contemporary and classical dance techniques have a progressive sequential structure and emphasis is placed on qualitative control, effort, balance, coordination, expressive range and sensitivity to music. All of these elements are particularly effective in helping people with Parkinson’s regain a sense of grace and control.

The dance class provides a safe environment for playing and working with challenges which maybe physical, cognitive, creative or artistic but all of which are enjoyable and fun. Pure exercise classes can be monotonous and participants may find it difficult to maintain motivation to attend and participate whereas a dance class is a much richer experience as it involves the whole being.

The benefits of dance class spill over into everyday life for participants – it becomes second nature to be aware of posture, position and rhythmic movement whether in class or in the shopping centre.

One of the many benefits of dance class is giving participants a movement vocabulary and quality that can help him/her deal with the challenges of daily life with greater confidence. Eg. how to find a solution and way of moving if you freeze at a traffic light etc.

Quote from Mark Morris website: “dance lives within – and there is always a way of bringing it to light”

Ailish has completed the Teacher Training Programme with the Mark Morris Dance Company in Brooklyn in addition to Continued Professional Development with Dance for Parkinson’s Network UK and the Network Steering Group. Ailish is grateful for ongoing support from David Leventhal, Programme Director, Dance for PD.

Here are a few links that may be of interest:


Why Dance for PD


Trailer for Capturing Grace

More information is available from The Dance for PD website