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Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre hosts dance classes for those with Parkinson's

| Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, 10:16 p.m.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
Christine Khanna from Squirrel Hill participates in a dance exercise at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre on Sept. 14, 2013. Khanna was part of a class designed to help people with Parkinson's Disease explore the art of dance.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
Sue Neff from Sewickley follows the movements to dance exercises at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre on Sept. 14, 2013. Neff was part of a class designed to help people with Parkinson's Disease explore the art of dance.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
(Left to right) Christine Khanna, Rita Shoemaker, Oliver Shoemaker, and Sue Neff participate in dance exercises at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre on Sept. 14, 2013. The program they were participating in is designed to help people with Parkinson's Disease explore the art of dance.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
Participants do arm motions as part of a dance class designed to help people with Parkinson's Disease explore the art of dance on Sept. 14, 2013 at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
Participants in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's class designed for people with Parkinson's Disease practice a dance exercise on Sept. 14, 2013.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
Tom Forbes from Zelienople follows the movements to dance exercises at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre on Sept. 14, 2013. Forbes was part of a class designed to help people with Parkinson's Disease explore the art of dance.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
Participants follow the movements to dance exercises at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre on Sept. 14, 2013. Participants were part of a class designed to help people with Parkinson's Disease explore the art of dance.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
Michelle Ramos, a dance teacher with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre for one year, demonstrates different motions to dance exercises as part of a class for people with Parkinson's Disease on Sept. 14, 2013 at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

Sue Neff had no aspirations of fine tuning her dance skills when she signed up for a series of classes that began on Saturday at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in the Strip District.

All she was hoping for was the chance to add to the repertoire of exercises that help keep symptoms of Parkinson's disease at bay. She began suffering from Parkinson's six years ago.

“I've done the rehab programs and exercise and swim regularly,” said Neff, 74, of Sewickley. “I think the dance movements and techniques are another good way for me to keep my body moving.”

Neff was among a small group of Parkinson's patients and volunteers who kicked off a new program — Dance for Parkinson's Pittsburgh — sponsored by the Ballet Theatre and the National Parkinson Foundation Western Pennsylvania that is designed to integrate ballet, modern dance and other techniques to help participants experience the mind-body benefits of dance.

“Exercise is essential in helping to manage Parkinson's disease,” said Barbara Farrell, executive director for National Parkinson Foundation Western Pennsylvania. “Dance, in particular this model for dance, provides additional benefits not found in many other types of exercise. These classes are appropriate for all people with Parkinson's disease regardless of ability or mobility.”

No previous dance experience is required to participate in the class.

During the hour-long program, which will meet weekly through the end of November, dance instructors Jamie Murphy and Michelle Ramos led the coed class in activities, including deep breathing and relaxation exercises, warm up and limbering techniques used by dancers and actual dance routines that have been modified for the physical limitations many Parkinson's patients experience.

Each series of steps was put together into a routine accompanied by music provided by Lisa Wimer, the pianist for the Ballet Theatre's school, who played selections from the musicals “Jekyll and Hyde” and “Phantom,” as well classics such as “Moonglow” and “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.”

An estimated 1 million people in the United States have Parkinson's Disease, with an additional 50,000 to 60,000 new cases diagnosed each year, according to the National Parkinson Foundation.

Parkinson's disease is a disorder of the motor system that causes symptoms such as trembling in the hands, arms, legs and face; stiffness of the limbs and trunk and impaired balance and coordination, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

“This was a wonderful experience,” said Christine Khanna, 62, of Squirrel Hill, who has been battling Parkinson's for 17 years. “I know that I have to keep my body moving, and this is a great way to do it.”

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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