English National Ballet and Roehampton University announce breakthrough research into the benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s

English National Ballet and Roehampton University announce breakthrough research into the benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s

Dancing like this is helping me to get Mr. Parkinson’s out of the driving seat of my life.”

“The ballet did make me urgently want to move more, and move better and hinted at how this might be possible

Dance for Parkinson’s participants

English National Ballet has been working with people with Parkinson’s since October 2010, and is the first major dance company in the UK to do this. Alongside this work English National Ballet commissioned Roehampton University to carry out research; this research is the first of its kind in the UK.

English National Ballet’s dance classes for people with Parkinson’s led by the Company’s Department of Learning are inspired by Mark Morris Dance Group who are pioneers of Dance for Parkinson’s in the USA. English National Ballet has re-interpreted their approach, making its work unique to the Company, reflecting the resources of an internationally acclaimed classical ballet company. English National Ballet is part of a network of teachers of Dance for Parkinson’s across the UK, supported by Dance Umbrella.

Dance for Parkinson’s was a 12 week project, funded by City of Westminster, which attracted 24 people with Parkinson’s, their family members and carers. Each week the group met for a dance class inspired by Rudolph Nureyev’s Romeo & Juliet.

During the classes participants learnt exercises based on the principles of grace and expression that are fundamental to ballet. Participants also had the opportunity to embody the characters of Romeo & Juliet and learn sequences from the famous Dance of the Knights. A trip to see Romeo & Juliet at the London Coliseum added value to the participant’s experience.

English National Ballet commissioned Dr. Sara Houston and Ashley McGill from Roehampton University to conduct research into the results of the project by examining the benefits of dance in its artistic form. The researchers reviewed the social and psychological benefits to participants as well as physical changes in posture, stability and mobility over the 12 week period.

The results are groundbreaking, and suggest that dance as seen in this project temporarily relieves some symptoms of Parkinson’s and aids short term mobility, as well as contributing to social inclusion and artistic expression.

The study examined the experience of dancing with Parkinson’s from both qualitative and quantitative angles. Both angles suggest that dancing is an important tool to increase well-being, aid daily life and to give people a sociable, creative outlet. The quantitative results were significant and indicate an increase in stability and balance during the project.

Dr. Sara Houston, Senior Lecturer at Roehampton University commented;

One of the most noticeable aspects of the project was how it supported participants’ confidence, as well as improving their bodily awareness. The project’s inclusivity and encouragement coupled with social interaction were key to achieving this.”

Craig Hassall, Managing Director of English National Ballet added;

The final workshop in the current series of Dance for Parkinson’s was so uplifting. The common denominator was not a disease but a shared commitment to dance. To think that some of the participants had started the season in a wheelchair and were now dancing to Gershwin was a remarkable feat. They were also able to take full advantage of the Company – meeting dancers, dancing in our studios, seeing costumes as well as coming to performances. This has been a most significant project for English National Ballet.”

Dr. Sara Houston

Houston lectures in the Department of Dance at Roehampton University, London. As one of the leading scholars on dance in community settings, she regularly researches and writes about dance in this field. Her work is focused on dance for people who feel, or are seen to be, marginalised or excluded in society.  

She was trained and educated at the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, London. She was awarded her PhD by Roehampton University, which examined the relationships between community dance and New Labour discourse. Houston has taught within both the university and vocational systems in the UK. She originally worked as a choreographer mainly with actors and singers in both community and professional settings.

Houston speaks internationally on community dance issues. She is Chair of the Board of Trustees and Directors of the Foundation for Community Dance.

Ashley McGill

McGill has performed with several Canadian dance companies including Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, the Ontario Ballet and the School of Alberta Ballet.  She studied Dance Science as a postgraduate at Trinity Laban, London UK. She lectures in dance science for Roehampton University. McGill is a certified Pilates instructor and teaches for studios and fitness centres in central London.

The Research

This research project was the first of its kind in the UK and one of the first world-wide to prioritise qualitative research methods within a mixed methods (qualitative and quantitative) study. The quantitative results for the project have included film analysis, 2-D postural analysis and tests using the Fullerton Advanced Balance Scale. The Scale includes ten tasks which measure dynamic and static balance and stability. The statistical difference between the pre and post test balance scores shows that this group as a whole made a significant increase in their balance ability from the beginning of the project to the end of the project according to this balance test. The results were significant at the 0.05 level for the group as a whole meaning that there is a good chance that this result or trend is true and that it did not just occur by chance. These results also follow similar trends seen in previous research.

Qualitative data was collected in the form of interviews, diary entries and observations. One of the most noticeable aspects of the project was the increase in confidence and body awareness which in turn affected participant’s ability to carry out balance tests and therefore could be seen to attribute to a general improvement of mobility in daily life.

English National Ballet’s Department of Learning

English National Ballet’s learning programme Be Engaged provides a gateway into the world of ballet connecting young people and communities to artistic practice and engaging them in a range of inspirational and high quality participatory activities. Be Engaged enriches the artistic programme, bringing ballet performances, activities and creative experiences to a diversity of audiences nationally and internationally.

We develop long term relationships with schools, colleges, dance agencies, arts organisations and stakeholders and initiate strategic projects that add value, inspire, promote health and well-being, increase self confidence, enhance physical skills and essentially leave a lasting legacy.

Roehampton University Department of Dance

Roehampton University’s Department of Dance is internationally recognised as a world-leader in dance research. The 2008 national Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) rated Roehampton number one in the UK for its dance research. Acclaiming 55% of its work in dance as ‘world-leading’, this represents the fifth highest concentration of world-class activity of any department in the country in any subject.

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