Parkinson's Class Proves Dance is for Everyone

Baihly Warfield
September 18, 2017 10:10 AM

For the folks in Jessica Roeder's dance class, Friday afternoons are the best. 

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That's when they get together to do something slightly unexpected. You see, these dancers have Parkinson's disease. 

"People here, they know when they're coming in what to expect and they know that everyone else knows what might go on with them," Jessica Roeder, the instructor, said. "So it's a very comfortable, accepting place."

Roeder started the class about six years ago. She had seen a video of a Parkinson's dance class at the Mark Morris Dance Group in Brooklyn, New York. 

"I watched the program. This was right before Christmas, and tears were just rolling down my face," she said. 

She emailed the director right away to see if there was somewhere she could volunteer. He told her there was no program in Minnesota yet. 

So Roeder got a grant from the Arrowhead Arts Council to attend training in Brooklyn. Shortly thereafter, Duluth's Parkinson's Dance Studio was born. 

"I've learned a lot, yes. I learn more every week," Roeder said. "They can do a lot more than they might think they can do."

Catharine Larsen started attending a few weeks after the class started. 

"I have a bad shoulder, so I can't raise this arm the way I want to. When I started, I just felt like I was dancing, and it was wonderful," Larsen said. "Now, my Parkinson's progressed, and my shoulder had surgery that didn't heal."

Nonetheless, she turns up every Friday. Larsen said it's not so much a class as it is a community. 

"We're all in different stages," she said, "and there are some people here who help some of the rest of us out."

Linda Anderson is a nurse practitioner in the neurology department at Essentia Health. She said she has referred people to Jessica's class before. 

"Exercise is one good way to offset what Parkinson's wants to do and kind of fight back against it," Anderson said. 

She said exercise can slow the progression of the disease. But there is still a lot medical professionals don't know about Parkinson's. 

"In this area, we actually have a pretty high percentage of Parkinson's patients," Anderson said. "The Midwest and the Northeast are kind of a cluster of people that are more affected for whatever reason."

Roeder said not only does dance improve flexibility and strength, it's good for the mind. 

"One thing that it does is it allows you to put everything else aside, and you're just in this one moment because if you aren't, then you are going to mess up," Roeder said. 

For her, the initial tug to put on the class became something more. 

"It was mostly just a sense I got right away that I thought I would be interested," she said. "Once I started meeting the people, I really like them. They're just wonderful people."

That's what keeps her going. 

The class meets every Friday from 1-2:15 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Duluth. There is a suggested donation of $3 per person or $5 for a group. 


Baihly Warfield

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