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Toe tapping is good medicine for patients with Parkinson’s disease

Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital and The Joffrey Ballet host Dancing with Parkinson’s classes

LFH Dancing with Parkinsons 3

To the pulsating beat of David Bowie’s “Under Pressure,” Joffrey Ballet dance instructor Carly Liegel leads her class through a series of dance moves at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Health & Fitness Center. Concentrating on every step and graceful arm movement, these aren’t ordinary performers. The class is for people with Parkinson’s disease, and every cha-cha and head roll is good medicine.

Parkinson’s disease affects nerve cells in the part of the brain that controls movement. Northwestern Medicine, in partnership with The Joffrey Ballet, launched the research-based dance program this year to help patients stay active while also addressing the social and emotional symptoms of the progressive disease.

“The importance of exercise in Parkinson’s disease cannot be overstated. Dance specifically involves intentional, highly coordinated and controlled movements with musical cues that may help people with Parkinson’s with symptoms of slowness, reduced fluidity of movements and balance,” said Neil Shetty, MD, movement disorders specialist at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital. “A program like this that utilizes dance to combine exercise with engagement in the arts and social interaction is a wonderful opportunity.”

LFH Dancing with Parkinsons 5The six-week program explores various dance styles including ballet, jazz, tap, modern and improvisation. Whether dancing in a standing or seated position, participants engage in movements tailored to their abilities, fostering strength, flexibility and creativity.

D. Kaplan, of Highland Park, does yoga, boxing and walking to stay active. But she said combining rhythm, focus and movement makes dance truly special and joyful.

“I love this program. The teacher is full of energy and heart,” Kaplan said. “I come in with aches and I leave with a sense of looseness and freedom. I love to dance. It makes me happy.”

Liegel, a community engagement program coordinator with The Joffrey Ballet, completed training with Dance for PD, a New York City-based program that pioneered dance classes for people with Parkinson’s disease.

“My goal for the class is to emphasize artistry and connection. I want to let everyone know that dance is an accessible art form for all. It’s a safe space to come how you are, express what you need, and connect with others for support, guidance and inspiration,” Liegel said.

Most of the participants have no previous dance experience. John Guziec, of Grayslake, laughed as he claimed he is totally uncoordinated.

“When I was in high school, I never would have done this.  But now that I’m older I appreciate the athleticism of dance,” Guziec said. “Parkinson’s is a terrible disease but when you have support you feel better. I’m making a lot of friends, and they all try to help one another.”

One of those friends is Rudy Van Loon, of Wilmette. Van Loon has always loved to dance and has a daughter who is a professional dancer, but Parkinson’s disease has made it difficult to get back on the dance floor.

“With more repetition, the better I’m getting. I used to have rhythm and now it is coming back,” said Van Loon. “This class is making me exercise more, gain more balance and agility that I’ve lost since I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Plus, we are having so much fun.”

There is no cost to participate and care partners are welcome to attend the class. The next series of classes will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Mondays starting Oct. 30 at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Health & Fitness Center, 1200 N. Westmoreland Road, Lake Forest, Ill.

For more information about Dancing with Parkinson’s please visit

For more information about classes and support groups for Parkinson’s disease at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, please contact Linda Egan, PT, Parkinson’s Program Coordinator at 847.535.8244.