HIGHLAND PARK – Dance therapist Erica Hornthal has received a grant from the National Parkinson Foundation that will enable her to provide complimentary therapeutic dance classes to people with Parkinson’s Disease or other movement disorders, as well as their family members and caregivers. The classes begin September 11 at North Shore School of Dance.
“Patients are not being limited by the Parkinson’s, and the classes bring them together. Once you’re in the class we’re not talking about symptoms we’re just dancing,” said Hornthal.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative brain disorder behind Alzheimer’s disease. According to the National Parkinson Foundation, one million Americans currently have PD with over 50,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
Three years ago Hornthal, who is the founder of North Shore Dance Therapy (NSDT), became involved in Moving Day, the National Parkinson Foundation Walk that includes dancing, boxing, yoga, and other activities. She contacted the foundation and was encouraged by an organizer to apply for a grant. Hornthal’s dream was realized when NSDT received the National Parkinson Foundation’s “2015 Communication Grant Award.”
“Receiving this grant is an incredible honor. And the fact that our participants will be joined by their loved ones and caregivers will strengthen their bonds and build empathy, both of which increase a patient’s quality of life,” said Hornthal, who is a licensed professional clinical counselor and board certified dance/movement therapist.
Hornthal anticipates that her classes will have Parkinson’s patients with different abilities. She plans on having everyone start out seated in chairs for about a quarter of the class, gradually seeing how they’re able to move around. There will be a component of choreography with repetition, and a cool down that involves stretching.
“Body warm ups help you check in with your body to see what causes pain. It’s important for each individual to document how they feel before and after every class,” said Hornthal.
In addition to working with Parkinson’s patients, Hornthal has used her holistic approach to help people in nursing homes who are suffering from dementia and cognitive movement disorders. She’s also gone to clients’ homes for couples counseling, using movements like a waltz or jitterbug to help patients process their emotions.
Hornthal has worked with a variety of patients of different age groups from a 35-year-old who suffered from early onset Alzheimer’s, to a 107-year-old woman with dementia. “The 107-year-old could walk on good days, but for the most part stayed in her wheelchair. She would only come to class when her hair was done and she was wearing makeup,” Hornthal remembered fondly.
Hornthal invites Parkinson’s patients, and those with other movement disorders to bring their family members and caregivers to her complimentary classes. “It’s about connecting with something real that doesn’t have to do with the illness. Bring your walkers and canes. Your walker can be your dance partner and not just a crutch to lean on,” she said.
On the Move with PD classes will be held at the North Shore School of Dance on Friday mornings twice a month beginning September 11 from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. at 505 Laurel Avenue in Highland Park. Classes will run through May 2016. For additional information call 847/848-0697, or visit North Shore Dance Therapy.