You might not expect to find a therapeutic dance program occurring in the middle of an art center. But that's exactly what's taking place each Wednesday morning, now through December, at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley tells us how the Art Moves Me dance program is helping people with Parkinson's disease.
In a corner of the art gallery about a dozen people gathered around a docent in front of one of Burchfield's painting.
Most of these visitors share a common bond – they have Parkinson's. They first discuss what's in the painting before they begin the Art Moves Me dance class, which is designed for those with neurological movement disorder.
“Leaning a new language or learning to play a new musical instrument – all of those things help build the neuro pathways in your brain, and so this is not just a joy for me, but I hope its building the neuro pathways,” said Marsha Guillaume of Amherst. She was diagnosed was with Parkinson's about 13-years ago.
“And I also have Myasthenia Gravis, so I’m battling two different diseases,” explained Guillaume.
“How does this class help you?” asked Buckley. “Oh my goodness – this has been a real God-sent for me, and coming here and looking at the artwork and interpreting it through dance has nourished my soul,” responded Guillaume.
Burchfield is working in partnership with the National Parkinson's Foundation of Western New York in presenting this movement program.
“It is so multi-sensory. It’s not just a painting that you’re looking at – people see and hear sound and movement in these paintings and so that inspired me to create this program,” stated Cynthia Pegado, teaching artist of Art Moves Me.
Pegado created this class so participants can interpret visual art through movement.
“My goal is to help people with Parkinson’s have like layer upon layer, upon layer of tasking so that it gets more and more challenging – they’re thinking – they’re moving – they’re interpreting – they’re listening – they’re reacting all at the same time,” Pegado describes.
After participants gather for a brief discussion around a Burchfield painting, Pegado begins a dance lesson -asking her class to use their imaginations and movement.
“Feel free to dip into your pallet,” Pegado instructs. This class includes live music presented by musician Bob Sowyrda. He brings various instruments into the class and ad libs all the music.
“It’s a wonderful experience. Every session that we have had everyone has come out happy,” Sowyrda declared. “It’s a frustrating disease for sure. The wonderful thing about this program is it seems to find places of movement that people otherwise wouldn’t find themselves.”
“Parkinson’s disease has taken some things away from and for myself to fight it, to do things that will help prolong a useful life, dancing and other exercises will help that,” remarked Paul Markwart, retired architect.
Markwart was diagnosed five years ago with Parkinson’s disease. His arm was shaking as he talked about how this movement class helps release him from the disease.
“When I’m dancing or here – I don’t even think of the disease – I just enjoy the place – what’s happening and trying to get my steps right,” Markwart replied.
“I never thought I would be here looking at a painting and coming up with a movement that my brain says is appropriate,” responded Bill Marx of Williamsville.
Marx calls his Parkinson’s as an “inconvenience”. He said the movement class is helping with his balance.
“It’s a totally new experience for me. I’ve been very active in sports. I was on ski patrol for 40-years – this is something totally out of my realm. Because of Cynthia’s involvement in dance exercise programs for the last three years, she led us into this and it has been amazing,” Marx said.
Art Moves Me is now part of a lineup of several community-style programs at the art center. They include one for Alzheimer’s, Vietnam Veterans and kids at risk. The Burchfield's Don Metz is associate director in charge of public programs.
"We pride ourselves working for the community and with the community and it's something that we all embrace as much as possible because we think that's our responsibility," Metz remarked.
These participants tell us that staying active is key to dealing with their disease. The Art Moves Me class allows them to stay in motion, alleviating some of those Parkinson’s symptoms – at least for the movement.