Free Parkinson’s dance workshop begins Sept. 10

Beginning this September, Des Moines University and the American Parkinson Disease Association are partnering to offer a free eight-week Parkinson’s dance workshop for individuals who have the disease. The dance program is organized and funded by the American Parkinson Disease Association-Iowa Chapter, which provides patient services and educational programs and helps to elevate public awareness about Parkinson’s disease. APDA employee Becky Robel created the program, and Kristin Lowry, Ph.D., assistant professor of physical therapy at DMU, is a member of the chapter’s board.

During the session, participants perform seated and standing exercises set to music. They then pair up with DMU students for dancing and other activities, such as passing balls. Parkinson’s disease patients are welcome to bring a guest, such as a spouse, child or friend, who also can participate in the activities.

DMU student Katherine Ternent, a DMU podiatric medical student, and Jim Cline practice the box-step.

Why dance? For the patients, “there is solid scientific evidence indicating that music and dance can get people with Parkinson’s disease moving better and improve their quality of life,” says Carolyn Weber, a second-year physical therapy student at DMU who led part of the sessions during a dance workshop last spring. “Parkinson’s disease impairs parts of the brain that control the selection of movement patterns needed for everyday activities that most of us take for granted, like walking. But music enters the brain via pathways that are not impaired by the disease and serves as an important signal to the brain to initiate movement patterns. In other words, music allows us to kind of hack into the brain. And with repeated hacking, people with Parkinson’s can get better at moving.”

The benefits go far beyond the physical. “This makes me feel good about myself – it makes me feel normal,” says Jim Cline, a Parkinson’s patient who has participated in the weekly sessions.

The DMU students also benefit. “As first-year students, we don’t get to work much with patients,” says Britney Williams, a student in the University’s doctor of physical therapy program. “I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. It’s nice that this isn’t in a sterile environment; it’s a real-life setting and a way to connect with people.”

Who: Parkinson’s patients and their guests  

When: Monday evenings from 6 to 7 pm beginning Sept. 10, 2018, and ending Oct. 29

Where: Des Moines University, Olsen Center, 3200 Grand Avenue, Des Moines

For more information: Contact Hanna de Geest, DMU community and public relations manager, at 515-271-1374 or

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