AHA Connects July 15 – Dance for Health: Parkinson’s

AHA! CONNECTS! – July 15, 2023
Dance for Health: Parkinson’s

Dance for Health: Parkinson’s is a new program for AHA! in 2023, supported by the NS Dept. of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage. Facilitated by Olivia Rossong, it has been offered in both Antigonish and New Glasgow.

In early 2022, Dance Nova Scotia (DanceNS) sought to train dancers across the province in offering Dance for Health: Parkinson’s, engaging in dance people living with Parkinson’s Disease and similar movement challenges due to neurological illness or trauma. Music and movement are employed in a safe social setting to show participants how light motion can help improve their quality of life and alleviate some of their motor challenges. Through AHA!, Olivia responded to their call and trained with Karen Bradley, dance therapist with DanceNS, to receive her instructor certification and attended an immersive workshop with Dr. Rebecca Barnstaple, dance/movement therapist and neuroscientist from Ontario.

According to the WHO’s Scoping Review of the Arts in Health and Wellbeing, “Dance has repeatedly been found to provide clinically meaningful improvements in motor scores for people with Parkinson’s disease (PD)… Improvements have been found in balance, gait speed and functional mobility…dance studies involving people with PD have also typically shown high compliance rates, low dropout and continued activity beyond the study period.” According to the WHO review, dance also decreases social isolation and improves quality of life for people with Parkinson’s DiseaseSimilarly, dance has been shown to “improve gait velocity, stride length, balance, smoothness of motion and number of steps per minute” in people with Multiple Sclerosis, another neurological disease.

Olivia piloted in-person classes once a week for eight weeks and twice a week for a month; she also offered a series of eight classes via Zoom. Participants were invited to have a family member or caregiver join them; volunteers occasionally supported the classes. The classes at Parkland Antigonish were supported both by their staff, and with refreshments. The last class of each session were celebrations open to friends and families of participants. Class size varied between one and 15 participants. Musicians Heather Cameron and Betsy MacDonald each joined a class in two of the sessions so participants could dance to live music. Dance NS Board Members Kenney Fitzpatrick and Karen Bradley, and Dance for Health Program Director, Elizabeth MacDonald, joined in the fun in one of Olivia’s Antigonish classes.

Some participants had previously danced, others had no dance experience. Some played musical instruments and helped with musical suggestions, sometimes accompanying the group. Many had walkers and danced with those initially, but often left them behind by the end of the sessions to dance with their fellow-participants. Individual moments were celebrated: participants moving without evidence of their tremor, people becoming more social, improvements in gait, balance, confidence and agency. Many participants became friends and supporters of each other both within and outside the group; many danced on their own at home after starting the group and realizing their improvements and joy in dancing.

All participants were most enthusiastic about the classes, preferring to participate as frequently as possible. Participants saw dramatic improvements in their movement, gait and balance, in their socialization and in their mental wellbeing. They left each class filled with joy, thanks to the support, friendship and laughter they had found there. What a fun way to improve health!

Heartfelt thanks to Olivia, for her skilled facilitation of these classes.

Photo credits: Kenney Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of Dance NS

An evaluation video created by Denise Davies for the Antigonish Dance for Health: Parkinson’s program:


This dance program has truly been a JOY for everyone involved! It’s been an honour to be able to facilitate these sessions and be a witness to so much growth unfolding in every participant. Everyone experienced the positive impact that dance has on their mind, body and soul! I am grateful to every participant for showing up & immersing themselves in every session and embracing the art of dance – they made the program into the success that it was & gave me an experience I will always treasure!

Photo credit: Olivia Rossong

Special thanks to the people who made this program possible: AHA! (Liz Brennan, Denise Davies & Anne Marie Mackenzie), Province of NS (Department of Communities, Culture & Tourism & Heritage), Dance NS (Karen Bradley, Kenney Fitzpatrick & Elizabeth Macdonald), Parkland (Maria Vanberkel & lovely staff), Museum of Industry (Denise Taylor & lovely staff), Musicians (Heather Cameron & Betsy MacDonald) & StFX student volunteers (Stella Nette & Anna Doerksen).