Dance teacher inspired by class for people with Parkinson's

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 9, 2013 

If you look in the windows of the YWCA ballroom on Sept. 26 at 11 a.m. you will see me doing what I love to do: teaching a dance class. This class is not my usual ballet or modern dance class for students at Western. Rather, this dance class is for people with movement and neurological disorders.

In October 2010 I started "Dance for people with Parkinson's disease and other movement and neurological disorders" with the help and encouragement of my friend Rick, who is a PWP or "person with Parkinson's." I have taught dance to people ages 3-75, from the beginner to the aspiring professional. Every class and student, no matter the population, surely teaches me more than I teach them, but there are none quite like this class and these students. I get to spend this one hour with people who are showing up to life. Most of the students in this class have a disease that is slowly taking away their ability to move, yet they are showing up and they are dancing. And let me tell you, there are some glorious dancers in the room.

This class is a modern technique class, a dance class where students learn how to use his or her body to express an idea. This is not a therapy class; I wouldn't know how to teach a therapy class. In this dance class students learn combinations that develop their understanding and ability to explore movement using the elements of dance: body, space, time and quality. These combinations develop strength and flexibility (of body and mind) and coordination and musicality. Structured improvisation is another component of the class. Through improvisation students discover their individual movement vocabulary or their personal movement voice.

The students and I are eager to let more people know about the benefits of participating in this class. Here are a handful of statements from students:

"My disease is categorized as a movement disorder. I feel like I'm walking on another planet where gravity bares down - much as a lead blanket would. I find it difficult to make the ordinary moves that we take for granted in our normal lives. This class lightens the load. In class I feel elevated. I find it helpful to be working on exercises that make it easier for me to move more freely. I am a dancer, I am not plodding along. The class is challenging and at the same time, uplifting. I am grateful for this opportunity to increase my body awareness and to develop my strength so I can function better through life."

"We're all doing things we never imagined we could do - and this change carries over into our lives outside class, too."

"I am so grateful for this opportunity to move as freely as I can with others. Though we are all limited in various ways, in the class we can transcend those restrictions and explore finding more effective ways to stretch ourselves while enjoying responding to others and to music. Pam Kuntz's instruction manages to show great care for our needs and at the same time to challenge us to go just a bit beyond our habits each time. This, for me, produces a feeling of joy, connection with others, and increasing strength."

"This class helps me to build my self-esteem and also challenges and inspires me to think of myself as a dancer - something I never would have dreamed. It is also an environment where I have been able to connect with people who have Parkinson's, which is important since we generally tend to isolate ourselves. As I enter my third decade with PD, I have lost much physically and mentally, so it is crucial for me to have some way to express what is inside of me: not as a person who has a disease, but a person who can dance."

Moving into year four, the class is going strong. We are anxious to get back into the studio this fall and hope to have some new folks join us. Please go to kuntzandco.org, email me at kuntzpam@gmail.com, or call me at 360-510-4711 to get more information. Or, better yet, just show up on Sept. 26 and take the class. The cost is $7 for a drop-in or $45 for the nine-week session.

Pam Kuntz is artistic director of Kuntz and Company, online at kuntzandco.org, and a senior instructor at the Western Washington University dance program. Window On My World is an occasional essay in Monday's Bellingham Herald that allows Whatcom County residents to share their passion for what they do, an idea or cause they support. Send your Window On My World, which must be no more than 700 words, to julie.shirley@bellinghamherald.com.

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