Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada

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Dancing with disAbility - A Huge Success for Grand River Chapter

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Multiple Sclerosis Society Funded Program - Dancing with disAbility

Program uses Music to unlock muscles that wouldn’t move

By Valerie Hill

The Waterloo Record

KITCHENER — Becky Hadaway first noticed the change in her body during a concert at Centre in the Square. Looking down, the 41-year-old realized her foot was tapping in time with the music.

This innate ability to maintain rhythm is taken for granted by most people but for Hadaway, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 19, the tap, tap, tap of her foot was life affirming.

"I was keeping rhythm with my foot, I hadn't been able to do that for years," said Hadaway in an interview following a Dancing with disAbility class, a program she credits with helping her get her mojo back.

Dancing with disAbility is a 12-week pilot project run weekly in a donated space at the Village at Winston Park, in Kitchener. Dance instructor, Jill Simpson conceived of the concept and runs the program using many genres of music to stimulate the brain and body for people with a variety of illnesses including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, cerebral palsy and the effects of stroke.

"It's how we use our bodies to stimulate our minds," said Simpson. "It's upping the oxygen levels to our brains, upping the neurotransmitters.

"It's challenging them (clients) to do things they don't otherwise do."

Neurotransmitters are the body's messenger service, the connection between brain and muscle. Simpson said she has read numerous studies and believes there is a correlation between dancing and improved function.

"I had a lot of experience looking after my dad who had Alzheimer's," said Simpson, director of Body Mind and Movement a trademark program to improve brain function.

Though many of the clients have severe impairments, Simpson encourages them to think about the music and do whatever they can, but not hold back.

Hadaway admits, this is not the most graceful of dance classes but that's not the point.

"It's been really fun," she said. "We look like a bunch of misfits who don't know what we're doing but we all have similar issues and are on similar medications and we all understand.

"It's a good place for us to share. If you limp, it doesn't matter. If you can't lift your foot but you're doing it in your head, that's OK. There is a sense of belonging here."

The program came out of a similar one that Simpson developed for the MS Society. Dancing with disAbility is an extension of that program, supported by both the Society and City of Waterloo, and opened to people with all movement disorders.

Despite the positive outcomes of such programs, Simpson said she must be careful to choose the music carefully. The repertoire must soothe as well as encourage movement.

"We're picking specific types of rhythm, you want to hear the vibration," she said.

In a recent class, she played soft piano solos, smooth jazz, French and African music as well as Latin beats. Then there is that crazy "Macarena."

"Arms up, arms down, shoulder, head, hip, knee, shake it around," she commanded. "March it."

Simpson instructed the students to use their whole body, to move in fluid motion and exercise their facial muscles. Occasionally, they are given props such as little egg shaped shakers or small balls for passing to each other.

Simpson also explains important elements of the music to her class.

"Dancing, we do it for ourselves without rational thinking," she said. She speaks about using their bodies to "communicate a story."

Simpson also looks for music with eight beats, which is optimal for getting bodies moving in rhythm.

Using this simple method, Simpson said that even people with Alzheimer's are able to achieve "really complex patterns" of movement.

Sixty-four year old David Gilbert was diagnosed with Parkinson's a decade ago and had to leave his sales job when the disease affected his cognitive ability.

Gilbert was forced to go on a disability pension but he has continued to engage his mind and body. Dancing with disAbility helps.

"I have to keep moving and dance is another way to move," he said. "I might have Parkinson's but Parkinson's doesn't have me."

The benefits of the program are multiple, said Gilbert, though he has some limitations.

"I can't do the tango," he said, with a grin. "It's the social part of it too. With the group, there are no worries, everyone is a friend."

Simpson concluded "People get very isolated by their disease, they feel defined by the disease and their world gets smaller.

"Doing things in a group physically changes our brain chemistry."

Valerie Hill is a reporter with the Waterloo Region Record and can be reached at vhill@therecord.com


To view article online Click Here

To view CTV coverage of dancing with disAbility Click Here


The MS Society, grand River Chapter, will be running a 12 week spring session beginning on March 23rd. Participants are welcome to join mid-session.

Classes are free for all people living with Multiple Sclerosis

To register contact Jill Simpson at bodymindandmovementprogram@gmail.com or call (519) 998-3024

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