Luzviminda Raymundo, 79, of Delray Beach, joins Marie Giguere, instructor and part-owner of Arthur Murray Dance Studio Boca Raton, in a tango routine done across the floor. (Jayda Hall)
For a few minutes without her walker, Lillian Vairo shuffled across the dance-room floor with the help of her husband and instructor.
And Marie Giguere, the instructor, marked each step by loudly saying, letter by letter, “T-A-N-G-O!”
“The teachers are so patient,” said Vairo, 85. “That is why I love this class.”
Vairo is among those participating this summer in a new Boca Raton dance class meant for people with Parkinson’s disease.
The program, offered by Arthur Murray Dance Studio, involves a variety of movements ranging from the waltz, cha-cha and tango, said Bethany Mollo, owner of the studio. It’s meant to get people socializing and exercising, which doctors say is beneficial to those with Parkinson’s.
“They do a lot of beautiful movements, and there’s something for everyone,” Mollo said. “Some people are able to move more than others, so the instructors keep it very simple.”
Dr. Arif Dalvi, a 20-year neurologist at the Palm Beach Neuroscience Institute, said most patients with Parkinson’s are aware exercise is vital. “But it’s hard for them to find something enjoyable so they dance since it’s fun for them,” he said.
Dancing is a supplement to medical treatment, helping improve the mood and energy levels of those diagnosed, Dalvi said.“A little bit of both is ideal,” he said. “Dance therapy cannot take the place of medicine or physical therapy, but the repetition is important and it’s useful.”
For 10 years, Vairo and her husband, Phil Vairo, 84, walked five miles together every morning.
But their routine shifted from walking pavements to gliding across hardwood floors at dance studios after she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 80, her husband said.
The disease, which causes tremors, slow movement, muscle stiffness and lack of balance, is incurable. She started dancing to keep her tremors and lack of balance under control.
The Vairos also have taken classes at the Boca YMCA and Boca Ballet during the past five years.
Arthur Murray Dance Studio’s class is offered from 1 to 2 p.m. Monday and Thursday each week.
The class is instructed by Giguere, part owner of the studio, and Judy Simon, the founder of The Alzheimer’s Project, a nonprofit.
Simon proposed the idea to Mollo of offering the Parkinson’s classes.
The program is not only to get people to move, said Rebecca Hahessy, South Florida program director of the American Parkinson Disease Association. “It’s great for socialization and coping because they’re with other people like them,” she said.
On a recent Monday, Lillian and other participants were greeted upon arrival as they made their way to seats positioned in a semi-circle. Giguere and Simon faced them with warm smiles and initiated a slow-paced stretching exercise.
A few moments later, Lillian Vairo smiled at her husband as he performed the same movements.
“He’s my husband, my supporter and my everything,” she said.