March 10, 2017
People move across the floor at Riverside Ballet Arts studio Tuesday, March 7, at a dance class for people with Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and other illnesses that affect movement.
The men and women who come to Glenda Carhart's Riverside studio for a weekly class might not be pegged as dancers.
Some are well past middle age, they may come with halting steps or pushing a walker, and most will need a rest break after a few turns across the floor.
But for these students, who have Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis, listening to the music and going through the movements is a triumph of will, an expression of joy and a way of fighting back.
Carol Higgins, a 71-year-old Riverside resident, has danced off and on since she was a young girl – ballet, ballroom and even belly dancing.
She got a Parkinson's diagnosis about eight years ago.
"I was told there was nothing I could do, I would just gradually get worse and they would give me more medication and that's how that would go, which is pretty devastating when you love to dance," she said.
Researchers are exploring exactly how and why movement to music helps Parkinson's symptoms, easing tremors and allowing people to move less stiffly. But they already know it works.
A Brooklyn dance company has been offering classes and training dance teachers since 2001, and its program has been replicated in 43 states and 16 countries.
Through Carhart's studio, Riverside Ballet Arts, the program has now come to the Inland area.
"My symptoms have definitely improved," Higgins said. "The fact that you can do something to help yourself is pretty exciting."
A classically trained dancer who performed with the National Ballet of Canada, Carhart has run Riverside Ballet Arts since 1984.
Higgins, a former administrator at Riverside Ballet Arts who had also taken classes there, told Carhart about her Parkinson’s disease. Then, Carhart’s daughter, who also had helped run the studio, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Carhart had heard about “Dance for PD,” a program of the New York-based Mark Morris Dance Group. So when she got an email about it, she thought, “It was serendipity, big time, and I figured OK, I’m supposed to be doing this.”
Carhart took an online course and went to Brooklyn in November for training. She’s been offering free classes locally since January, including one every Tuesday at her Sycamore Canyon studio.