Gonzaga’s Dance Studio held its first Dance for Parkinson’s class of the year on Sept. 25, a curriculum of specialized dance classes offered to people in the community who are afflicted with Parkinson’s as well as their family and friends. 

The classes target certain symptoms of the disease, such as balance, cognition, motor skill, depression and physical confidence, according to danceforparkinsons.org.

GU senior Diana Fisher, service project coordinator for Boundless, has been involved with Dance for Parkinson’s since her freshman year. The mechanical engineering major and dance minor was introduced to the program during her senior year of high school when she visited campus. She saw information on a bulletin board in the dance studio. She asked more about it and knew she wanted to be involved. 

Fisher has been dancing her whole life, so she wanted to find a way to mix her passion for dance with community service.

“Coming to Gonzaga I saw that this was an amazing opportunity. Once you volunteer once or twice you can’t not love it. It’s amazing,” Fisher said. “I could do other volunteer projects, but when I’m sharing my love of dance and movement with them —­­­ that’s when I’m 100 percent committed.” 

Senior Miranda Heckman is a dance minor who volunteers with the program; she feels the same passion about the program that Fisher does.

“It’s really rewarding to watch the joy on their faces,” Heckman said. “They are so happy to be there and just be able to move. It’s humbling to be with people who just appreciate the ability to move.”

Fisher just became certified as a Dance for Parkinson’s program trainer. The certification class is normally held in Brooklyn, New York, but happened to be held at GU’s Dance Studio this year; it attracted people from as far away as Florida. Dance instructor Suzanne Ostersmith coordinated the training and made sure it was held on campus so that the founder, David Leventhal, could come to Spokane and see program in full force.

I was trained in Brooklyn and have since really developed our program here,” Ostersmith said. “I was really persistent about having David Leventhal come here because I wanted him to see our great program, but also to give our students a chance to get great training in this pedagogy without having to travel across the country.” 

The class is not movement therapy, nor does it target specific symptoms. However, Fisher says the class usually does help to alleviate some of the side effects of the disease.

“You’ll find lots of the symptoms are diminished as a side effect,” Fisher said. “That’s not the intent, though — the intent is to get them moving and fluid. There are people who come into class with wheelchairs or walkers; everyone is at a different stage. It’s really helpful to any of them, the community is there. They leave holding someone’s hand, and they don’t need to be supported beyond that. That doesn’t happen to everyone, but their movements get smoother.” 

Classes are held alternating Fridays and Saturdays in the theater dance studio on campus; anyone who is interested in volunteering can contact Fisher or Ostersmith for more information on how to get involved. 

Fisher, Heckman and Ostersmith all list many benefits that students and community members receive from the class. 

“Sometimes we take for granted how lucky we are to be strong and have such physical dexterity,” Ostersmith said. “People with Parkinson’s are just that: people challenged with this particular struggle.  Anyone who participates in our classes leaves feeling better than when they entered.” 

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