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Dance classes help ease Parkinson’s symptoms

Joy Schnall, left, of Delray Beach, Fla., partners

Joy Schnall, left, of Delray Beach, Fla., partners with Frances Polini of Deerfield Beach during a twice-weekly movement class for people with Parkinson's disease. Credit: TNS / John McCall

It’s Thursday afternoon and the dance studio in Boca Ballet Theatre is filled with couples, some in wheelchairs, moving in unison to piano music.

The 11 pairs are there for the twice-weekly free class, BBT4PD: Dance for those living with Parkinson’s disease.

“Class can be danced sitting, standing or holding on to a walker,” a flier says.

This is the fifth year, and the program is growing steadily, said Dennis Lue, instructor and co-program director with Cindy Surman.

Students are mostly seniors and consider the movement class a lifesaver. When Parkinson’s disease symptoms catch up with him and he doesn’t feel like going, he goes anyway, said retired rabbi Merle Singer, a program and ballet theater benefactor and rabbi emeritus at Temple Beth El of Boca Raton.

“Today I was tired. I had an off day,” he said.

Singer was at the class with caregiver Maria Beltran.

“I have to keep moving,” he added, saluting pianist Martha Brown, the program’s accompanist.

Singer has been coming to the classes for four years and he’s a convert, but only in the dance sense. “I said ‘me, go to ballet, are you kidding?’ ” he said, laughing.

He announced he had Parkinson’s in 2005, Singer said after class. A documentary on his life was shown on public TV in the spring.

“I may not live to see a cure, but I’ve had a lot of fun,” he said.

“I’m inspired by the people. They laugh and they’re having fun,” said physical therapist Sharlene Mann, who comes twice a week with her husband Charles Mann after moving to Coral Springs from Boston. “We came to try it out and we stuck.”

“It helps you become aware of your body. Some of my symptoms have gone. I’m doing well,” said Frances Polini, a BBT4PD student for four years.

Marjorie Faver is in her second season. “As a former ballet dancer, it’s helping me move my limbs myself,” she said. “You can feel the music.”

The class is part of a national program, and instructors Surman and Lue were trained in New York for Dance for PD, a collaborative of Mark Morris Dance Group and Brooklyn Parkinson Group. The program is sponsored by the American Parkinson Disease Association.

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