Healthy Living: Dance class helps people living with Parkinson's Disease

April is Parkinson's awareness month and while we don't know what causes the disease or have a cure, we do know there are ways to help people manage the condition and improve their quality of life.  For some, it begins with the right moves.

With every stretch and every breath, Nan Little finds strength.

"You can forgive yourself for what you're not able to do," said Nan who is living with Parkinson's Disease. "All people with Parkinson's are different."

Parkinson's is a neurodegenerative disorder, impacting movement, balance and speech.  It impairs movement and can cause stiffness and tremors.  That's where dance comes in.

"For our students it helps support them in lifting the quality of their lives," said Shawn Roberts, the Director at the Seattle Theater Group which runs the Dance for Parkinson's Program.

Dance for Parkinson's started locally in 2008 and offers free classes at 7 different locations across Western Washington for people living with Parkinson's.  Organizers say by working with professional dancers, students are able to explore movement in a safe and creative environment.

"They are connecting with people that are going through the same thing they're going through," said Roberts.  "They're being lifted through the art form of dance."

Classes focus on balance, flexibility, coordination and gait.  Live music keeps it fun, but for Nan, it's much more than that.

"It's the social aspect and mental aspect," said Nan.  "When you move funny and speak funny, you tend to stay away from people.  When you come to a class like this, we're all on the same page."

Nan knows what it means to overcome obstacles.  At 65-years-old, she climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.

"I was probably the oldest woman ever with Parkinson's (to stand) on Mt. Kilimanjaro and that was overwhelming," said Nan with a smile.

Now she shows up to dance class to prove to others that with the right moves, you can conquer even the biggest mountains.

"I used to be a person.  When I was diagnosed, I was a medical subset.  I was a person with Parkinson's," said Nan.  "When I come to this class, I'm a person again and that means the world."

Dance for Parkinson's classes are offered in Seattle, Kirkland, Bellevue, Mercer Island, Lynnwood, and Des Moines.  There are also more than 300 programs around the world.  The class is free and no dance experience is required.

If you'd like to learn more about the international programs, click here.