Posted by Kathryn Nielsen
At my last Parkinson’s dance class, Marjie Sokoll, Director of Spirituality and Aging, tapped me lightly on the shoulder. "At the end of class today, would you want to say anything about what the program has meant to you? I know people would love to hear it." I reflexively winced; I’m not naturally inclined to public speaking. I must have winced more visibly than I had intended to, because Marjie immediately clarified, "Of course, you don't have to if you don't want." I did end up saying something at the end of that class but, to be honest, I can't remember what I said. When I speak in public my head rings and I essentially switch to autopilot. The following is, I hope, a more eloquent version of the sentiments that I wanted to share.
First of all, thank you. I have enjoyed every last minute of my time at JF&CS and will miss it immensely when I am back at school. One of my first and most lasting impressions of the Parkinson’s dance class was how incredibly open and welcoming everyone was. Although my position could be more lightheartedly described as ‘temporary, glorified snack-and-drink-girl,’ even on my first day I was treated like any other member of the group. As time went on, I slowly learned people’s names and began to look forward to my Wednesday morning with the program participants and Parkinson’s Family Support Director Nancy Mazonson and her staff.
A large source of the success of Parkinson’s dance is its fearless leader, Art Sullivan. While he carefully choreographs each dance step to help battle specific symptoms of Parkinson’s, the exciting music and playful atmosphere of every class allows participants to relax and enjoy themselves. Each week the room is all smiles as we plié, mambo, and do the Charleston together. As Art always says, "There are three rules to this class: One, we’re here to have fun. Two, try your best to follow me. Three, if rule number two isn’t working out so well, refer back to rule number one.” I think this captures the personality of his class perfectly.
Even after the last notes of the final song ring out (usually a sing-a-long to Que Sera Sera
or Somewhere Over the Rainbow
- two of my all-time favorites) people linger in their seats. We speak about newly publicized treatments for Parkinson’s, watch inspiring YouTube videos of other dancers with Parkinson’s, and discuss each other’s creative pursuits, such as music composition and painting. This fosters a sense of closeness and community among the class regulars. Many of them are also members of the popular Tremble Clefs choral group, another program I had the pleasure of working with this summer. With multiple activities to partake in during the week and a large overlap in participants, real friendships are formed.
During one particular class, the Parkinson’s dance program was presented with a grant from the National Parkinson’s Foundation. During that day’s group discussion period, everyone was asked to speak about his or her personal relationship to the program. One person raised her hand and said that the sing-a-long at the end of each class was “the most spiritual part of [her] week.” The verity of this particular comment struck me to my core. How amazing it was that this group of people had found such a deep connection and support system in each other. And how amazing it was that I, for however short a time, got to be a part of it.
Kathryn Nielsen is a rising junior at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland where she majors in neuroscience. Although she goes to school abroad, she is originally from Greater Boston and spent her summer volunteering at JF&CS and working as a a research assistant at Brandeis University.