Sarah Robichaud, right, in a Dancing with Parkinson's dance class
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After more than a year of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are craving to turn up the heat this summer (and maybe burn up a few dance floors) with family, friends, exercise and activity. Luckily, many places have made it easier to still enjoy these activities while keeping the risk of contracting COVID-19 low.

Just ask professional dancer Sarah Robichaud. In , Sarah founded Dancing with Parkinson’s (DWP) to enrich the lives of people living with Parkinson’s – including family, friends, and caregivers – through dance. DWP held free in-person dance classes every day but these ended in to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Still, Sarah found a way to make things work. Now, more than 1,500 people in the Parkinson’s community are enjoying her dance classes online.

Socially distanced or not, dance is still something Parkinson Canada encourages as a way to live well and manage symptoms related to Parkinson’s. Here are five reasons why you should consider adding dance to your daily routine during the pandemic.

1. Dance helps manage Parkinson’s symptoms

Over 40 scientific studies support the emotional, cognitive and physical benefits of dancing for those living with Parkinson’s. One study by Joseph DeSouza that was funded by the Parkinson Canada Research Program seeks to prove that dance might relieve motor symptoms that make it difficult for people with Parkinson’s to walk and to control movements.

“All the other dance classes that take place all over the world show that people feel better – they’re happier,” said DeSouza. “It’s almost like a supplemental therapy that helps them cope with whatever they’re dealing with.”

In a study by the Evaluation Centre for Complex Health Interventions (more on that later), 80% of people said dance improved their energy levels and mobility while 64% said attending daily dance classes relieved feelings of depression. Research also shows that improvements in balance and gait last long after dance classes end.

2. You can join online dance classes – no need to leave your home!

We already mentioned that, after closing in-person locations due to safety protocols, DWP started running their daily dance classes to all seniors across Canada virtually. This means that, as long as you have a stable internet connection and a computer, tablet, or mobile phone, you can join a live dance class without even leaving the comfort of your home.

Need a warmup session? Watch Sarah’s “Dance with Us – Staying Together While Apart” playlist below or on the Parkinson Canada YouTube channel.

3. Dance connects you with friends and community

Joining a dance class virtually doesn’t mean you can’t interact with your fellow dancers. To show their effectiveness, the Evaluation Centre for Complex Health Interventions asked people whether online dance classes made social distancing more bearable; 80% of respondents said that it did.

In Sarah’s case, about 150 people every day connect with each other in her online dance classes. Sarah intended her classes to be inclusive, safe and welcoming to all experiences and abilities. Some participants have never danced before and are even joining in from hospital beds, wheelchairs, and with walkers. Long term care homes and other recreational services have also added dance classes from DWP to their daily schedule for residents and clients to enjoy.

4. Dance is fun!

Great tunes, great company, proven health benefits – what more can you ask for? Dance is an artistic exercise that allows us to express our own uniqueness and individuality. By picking songs and music you like and moving to their beat, dance is a way for us to put a little of ourselves into the art that we enjoy. It’s even better when other people around you are enjoying it as much as you are!

5. DWP dance classes are free

Dancing with Parkinson's Canada

It doesn’t cost a cent to break into a little dance once in a while at home and some dance classes are no different. The virtual dances classes held by DWP, for instance, are absolutely free of charge. They also combine great music to sing along to, visualization, imagery, and storytelling. Participants can also sign up for free.

Is there a song or dance that particularly moves you? Let us know in the comments below!

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