Image: Kate Hartley-Stevens teaching a Dance for Parkinson's class at English National Ballet's studios © Photography by ASH

Kate Hartley-Stevens is a specialist Dance Artist for English National Ballet’s (ENB) Dance for Parkinson’s programme. She tells us why it is so special.

When people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them I teach dance, they normally assume that I mean teaching little girls in pink leotards (think Julie Walters’ character in Billy Elliot!). So when I say that the main group of people I work with are people living with Parkinson’s, they are often surprised and eager to know more, asking questions like “What happens in a Dance for Parkinson’s class?” and “How does dancing help people living with Parkinson’s?”

The truth is that an ENB Dance for Parkinson’s class is in many ways the same as any other dance class (although our participants can wear what they like and tend to opt for comfy clothing over leotards!). Each session lasts just over an hour and draws on all of the elements of ballet technique. A range of exercises focus on the physical elements of posture, balance, flexibility, strength, and coordination.

Dance for Parkinson's class at English National Ballet's home © Photography by ASH
Dance for Parkinson's class at English National Ballet's home © Photography by ASH

However, exercises are adapted to be suitable for a person living with Parkinson’s, with different movement options given so that there is always ‘something for everyone’.

Exercises are designed with the symptoms of Parkinson’s in mind, such as instability, stiffness of muscles and slow, rigid, movement. We often begin by warming-up seated, then we progress to barre work focusing on balance and stability, and then to faster-paced standing exercises that focus on coordination and moving with confidence.

There has been a lot of research into the positive impact dancing can have to support people living with Parkinson’s, and ENB’s classes have been at the forefront of this. In our society we are increasingly seeing the need for health care to integrate physical activity into routine clinical care: ENB’s Dance for Parkinson’s classes offer all the benefits of physiotherapy, plus a lot more!

Musicality, artistry and creativity are key components to any dance class, and at English National Ballet we have live music in every session. This encourages participants to really feel the rhythms in their bodies and to move with freedom, ease and fluidity.

Dance for Parkinson's class in Oxford © Photography by ASH

All of our classes are inspired by our repertoire, from the classics such as Swan Lake and Nutcracker, to more contemporary work, such as Akram Khan’s Giselle. The repertoire changes each term so there is a great variety! We focus on the themes, music, characters and choreography, and alongside the classes we watch the production – either at the theatre or on film. Exploring ENB’s repertoire keeps the classes mentally stimulating and brings joy and laughter to each session.

Of course, what really makes the classes so special are the people who take part and the wonderful sense of community and friendship created. Living with Parkinson’s can be isolating, which is arguably the worst ‘symptom’ of all, so being able to come and dance each week as part of the ENB Dance for Parkinson’s family is a wonderful thing. All sessions finish with chat over tea and biscuits – this is perhaps the best part of all!

Find out more about Dance for Parkinson’s

Dance for Parkinson's class at English National Ballet's London City Island studios © Photography by ASH

Click here to learn more about our Dance for Parkinson’s classes, which normally take place in Cardiff, Ipswich, London, Liverpool and Oxford (with affiliated hub National Dance Company Wales and hub partners Dance East, Royal Albert Hall, Merseyside Dance Initiative and Oxford City Council).

You can try a Dance for Parkinson’s class for yourself at home on English National Ballet’s YouTube channel.

Dance for Parkinson's class at English National Ballet's London City Island studios © Photography by ASH