Dance Beyond Disease: Parkinson’s Patients Find Identity Through Performance

Summary: Dancing offers Parkinson’s patients more than physical rehabilitation; it provides a transformative avenue for personal identity and self-expression.

Researchers discovered that participating in a dance company can profoundly influence the disease-related identity negotiation in individuals with Parkinson’s. These dancers, by performing and engaging in company activities, were able to establish a strong group identity and express themselves without the overshadowing label of their condition.

The study underscores the unparalleled power of artistic performance in reshaping perceptions, both internally and externally.

Key Facts:

  1. The study engaged eight dancers from the Swedish Kompani Parkinson dance company, evaluating the profound impact of dance on their self-perception and identity.
  2. Earlier studies indicated dance as a promising rehabilitation method for Parkinson’s patients, but this research emphasized dance’s role in shaping personal and group identities.
  3. For the participating dancers, the group offered trust and social support based on embodied expression, rather than cognitive or physical abilities.

Source: University of Eastern Finland

A recent study by the University of Eastern Finland and Balettakademien Stockholm found that performing in a dance company and being involved in its activities play a significant role in the identity and disease-related identity negotiation in people with Parkinson’s disease.

Performing in the dance company and sharing the process of performing with others created a strong group identity for the dancers with Parkinson’s disease.

The dancers’ experiences of watching and being watched provided them with novel ways of expressing themselves and being seen without their identity being associated with Parkinson’s disease.

This shows a woman dancing.
Dance Beyond Disease: Parkinson’s Patients Find Identity Through Performance Credit: Neuroscience News

Earlier studies have focused on dance interventions in group settings, i.e., dance classes, aimed at rehabilitation and social participation. They have shown that dance is a promising form of adjunct therapy for patients with Parkinson’s disease. In people with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease for example, dance has led to significant improvements in balance, gait and functional mobility. 

The new study, published in Nordic Journal of Dance, focused on the significance of dance as a performative art form in Parkinson’s disease.

The study involved eight dancers from the Swedish Kompani Parkinson dance company, which performs both in Sweden and abroad. The dancers completed an online questionnaire and most of them also participated in a focus group interview.

The dancers considered cohesion, division of responsibilities, peer support, acceptance and trust as essential aspects of functioning within the group. The study suggests that membership in the company and group identity also enabled the dancers to negotiate their personal identity.

“The group offered trust and social support in a way that was not based on cognitive or physical ability, but on embodied expression. For the participants, this was something new and significant,” says Senior Researcher Hanna Pohjola of the University of Eastern Finland.

For the dancers with Parkinson’s disease, the novel group identity provided an opportunity to negotiate an embodied identity that was tied to artistry – not to Parkinson’s disease. Although the disease sets its limits on what the body can do, the dancers were not limited or confined by art, allowing them to rediscover themselves.

“Being a part of the group and performing as a member of the company also allowed the dancers to change their perception of the self. Being a dancer and having expressive capacity were seen as something without limitations, allowing people to grow and develop despite possible functional limitations.” 

The study was conducted as part of the Narrating through Dance in Life Fractures project, which is funded by the Kone Foundation. The project examines the experiential and psychosocial consequences of dance in different life transitions. 

About this Parkinson’s disease research news

Author: Maj Vuorre
Source: University of Eastern Finland
Contact: Maj Vuorre – University of Eastern Finland
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Performing with Parkinson’s: Leaving traces” by Hanna Pohjola et al. Nordic Journal of Dance

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