Dance for Wellbeing classes at Belconnen Arts Centre utilises a variety of multicultural dance and music styles; in one session, participants move in pairs to Indigenous Australian didgeridoo music, then perform an Israeli folk dance as a group. Creative Program Officer Philip Piggin and his team have created an environment full of encouragement, smiles and just the right amount of cheekiness, with a recent discussion centring around whether everyone should get multicoloured tie-dyed t-shirts to wear to class!
Jennie has taken part in the Dance for People with Parkinson’s class at Belconnen Arts Centre since early 2017. Originally chaperoned by a carer, her daughter Emma now accompanies her after experiencing the joyful atmosphere firsthand.
“So much of what we do together is doctor’s appointments and medical check-ups…this is the bright spot of our week,” Emma explains. “No one knows your history,” Jennie adds. “Yes, no matter what your diagnosis or functionality is, everyone who comes to class gets something out of it,” Emma agrees.
In 2001, a support group for those affected by Parkinson’s Disease, the Brooklyn Parkinson Group in New York, approached the Mark Morris Dance Group with an intriguing proposal; develop a dance exercise program to assist people with Parkinson’s Disease in maintaining their health and wellbeing. What began as a small collaboration between two disparate groups in New York City became Dance for PD®, which has since spread to 26 countries around the world, spurred more than 35 peer-reviewed research studies and boasts an advisory board comprised of world-renowned neuroscientists, neurologists, medical professionals and researchers.
Fast forward to 2014; revered community dance practitioner Piggin, who spearheaded the introduction of dance classes for people with Parkinson’s at Belconnen Arts Centre the previous year, wins a coveted Churchill Fellowship, allowing him the opportunity to travel to New York to learn directly from the Dance for PD® program creators. One of the first Australians formally trained in the delivery of Dance for Parkinson’s programs and a passionate advocate for dance that is accessible for all people, Piggin has spent his career developing and contributing to the community and educational dance programs in the UK and across Australia. Since moving to Canberra in 1999, he has been an integral part of the local dance community, working with Ausdance ACT, with Canberra Dance Theatre for ten years, and teaching extensively in the school and university sector.
Managed by Piggin, the Dance for Wellbeing program takes place weekly at Belconnen and Tuggeranong Arts Centres, ably supported by fellow instructors Jane Ingall, Jacqui Simmonds, Gretel Burgess and Debora di Centa. The program includes Offbeat: Dance for People with Parkinson’s, Vivacity! Dance for People with Dementia and Dance for All, which caters to people with conditions such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis, chronic fatigue and chronic pain. The benefits of these classes have been recognised and supported by ACT Health, Parkinson’s ACT, Dementia Australia and the National Health Co-op. It’s no wonder Piggin was honoured with a lifetime membership by People Dancing (UK) and a nomination for ‘Services to Dance’ at the 2017 Australian Dance Awards, for his significant contributions to community dance.
Another participant in the Dance for People with Parkinson’s class named Margaret sums it up, stating, “I’ve been coming since the beginning. I love it. What else needs to be said?”
Written by Skye Rutherford.
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