Through dance, a new start: Movement classes have shown to alleviate many signs of Parkinson’s disease

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Through dance, a new start: Movement classes have shown to alleviate many signs of Parkinson’s disease



Upbeat disco music resonates through a spacious studio. With the music on, people who used to take short and fast steps with their bodies slightly bent begin to raise their feet and walk with bigger strides. They straighten themselves out and their steps become more relaxed as they indulge themselves into the music.

After a while, it is hard to point out who in the studio has a diagnosis and who doesn’t. Some of the patients who were nervous in the beginning start to keep pace with the music and their moves become as beautiful as butterflies.

A blonde-haired instructor named Pamela Quinn is leading the pack.

“You have become a totally different person from now on. Imagine that you’ve become a model walking the runway,” Quinn said.


People with Parkinson’s disease, top, perform with ballerina Lee Yoon-ji at Studio Maru, located in Hyehwa-dong in Jongno District, central Seoul, in December. The students spent a month preparing for the performance. (Their faces have been blurred at their request.)

It was an ordinary Monday afternoon in December, but the class being held inside Studio Maru located in Hyehwa-dong in Jongno District, central Seoul, was extraordinary. The people who attended the class saw how dance can heal their bodies and souls.

It was a workshop held for patients with Parkinson’s disease organized by Dancers’ Career Development Center (DCDC). The workshop was given by Quinn from the United States, who has Parkinson’s herself. The 65-year-old former professional dancer shared some tips on how to overcome stiff muscles through dance with about 40 patients and their families that day.

Parkinson’s disease is a nervous system disorder and often accompanies symptoms like stiff muscles, reduced facial expressions, impaired balance and slurred speech. Since it is a long-term degenerative disease, a lot of patients often experience depression as their conditions deteriorate.

But special experiments are underway for patients, and “Dance for Parkinson’s Disease” is one of the programs. In Seoul, DCDC is in charge of the program.

The organization was launched in 2017 to help professional dancers to find jobs after their retirement.

At DCDC, former professional dancers teach choreography to patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease so that they can relax their rigid muscles through dance.

Unlike the dance programs offered to the patients at DCDC, Quinn’s class offered a different approach to movement. Her program, PD Movement Lab, puts an emphasis on daily, approachable movements. PD is an abbreviation of Parkinson’s disease.

Quinn worked as a professional dancer for 20 years, and she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when she was 42. She’s been wrestling with the disease for two decades.

Based on personal experience, Quinn’s programs are credited for enhancing mobility of patients with her own innovative approaches.

Now she is actively involved in various campaigns for patients with Parkinson’s disease.

According to Quinn, dance can be part of your life as long as you are ready for a challenge.

Quinn learned herself the importance of challenging yourself to move in different ways. She once attended an open class given by her son’s football team and was able to kick a ball with her weak left leg. After doing so, she realized that her leg was okay. By tricking her muscles, she could overcome limping the moment she kicked the ball, even though it lasted for just a few seconds.

“Let’s say you kick a ball. Then you have to move your lower part of your leg, underneath the knee. I knew my left leg was not okay, but it worked normally when I kicked the ball,” said Quinn.

It was an “aha” moment for her.

“I realized what I needed was specific situations that challenged me. Since then, I imagine myself kicking a ball when I am walking.”

The class’s opening song “Arirang” led into a waltz. The waltz took the patients to an elegant ball in Medieval Europe.

A few lines were drawn on the floor in the shape of stepping stones, and as Quinn held hands with each patient, she helped them cross the room while being sure to step on each spot. After finishing the path, each person beamed with joy.

Chae Bong-seok was one of them. When he crossed the stepping stones with big strides, the studio filled with cheers not only from his family, but from instructors who have been teaching him for years at Dance for Parkinson’s Disease.

Quinn’s different style provided some insights to the instructors working at DCDC.

“There is a patient who used to walk with quick steps but he experienced [success with Quinn’s program] and challenged himself one more time. I was really surprised to see that,” said Kim Mi-young, one of the instructors.

“We tend to put a priority on artistic achievements [of patients] and guide them to move carefully, but Quinn is much bolder because she is well aware of how far patients can go. I can take her style into consideration when I’m teaching patients later,” Kim added.

On Dec. 18, two days after Quinn’s one-day workshop, a special performance was held at the same venue.

A ballerina clad in a tutu glided into the center of the studio, and the entire studio erupted in a loud applause.

As Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” played in the background, Lee Yoon-ji, a dance major at Sejong University, performed the solo dances of Odette, the swan princess.

To accompany Lee, the students in the class performed a group dance from the ballet while seated on chairs.

“Swan Lake” was then changed into twist dance music, and the students stood up from their chairs and danced. While wearing Santa Claus hats, they pulled off the 25-minute performance successfully. Although the performance only lasted for 25 minutes, it lingered in the minds of the audience even after the performance was over.

The patients prepared for the show for a month under the guidance of choreographer Kim Mu-hyun.

After the performance came to an end, everyone in the class looked overwhelmed.

“It was a little hard, but I had so much fun while doing it,” said Choi Jin-gyeong. “I appreciate the teacher who created the wonderful dance for us. We’re afraid of going out, but I am able to meet other patients and teachers who understand us whenever I come here. Whenever I have a dance lesson, it feels like visiting my mother’s house,” she added.

Park In-ja, the chairman of DCDC, said, “We organized this event in the hopes that the patients forget they are struggling with Parkinson’s, even if it is just for a while.”

The families of the students were happy to see their loved ones taking part in the performance.

“I see my wife dancing even in her dreams. Ever since she found this program two years ago, we regularly come,” said Kim Young-cheol.

“Parkinson’s disease is an incurable disease, but she is getting over it by communicating with other patients on social media. I want other people who are fighting the disease alone to join the community as well.”

Dance for Parkinson’s Disease is currently available in 250 communities across 24 countries.

In Korea, DCDC runs one class in Seoul, while other locations including Lion Hospital in Incheon, the Pusan National University Yangsan Hospital in Busan and the Parkinson’s Healing Center in Gwangju, offered the same program as a trial.

Some scientific research supports the effects of dance therapy. The University of Freiburg in Germany conducted an eight-month long study of 11 patients with Parkinson’s disease in 2011 and found that most of the patients saw their tremors and rigid muscles decrease while taking dance lessons.

Koh Seong-beom, a professor of neurology at Korea University Guro Hospital, said, “We haven’t started analyzing how patients’ exercise capacity has enhanced yet, but we saw significant signs of progress in depression and speech.”

Koh has been monitoring patients who sign up for the Dance for Parkinson’s Disease class for six months.

“I saw notable changes, especially in speech. People who hardly talked now begin conversations. People who previously spoke quietly and with a limited number of words now sound more articulate and use more words than before.

“If the program was available at dementia centers nationwide, it could reach more people,” Koh added.


파킨슨병 환자를 백조로, 근육 해방…마법의 ‘댄싱 퀸’

“이제부터 다른 사람이 되는 겁니다. 런웨이의 모델이 됐다고 상상하고 걸어보세요.”

경쾌한 디스코풍 음악에 맞춰 발을 뗀다. 조금 전까지 구부정하게 잰걸음을 걷던 사람들은 없다. 대신 허리를 꼿꼿이 펴고 당당하게 활보하는 사람들만 있다. 순간 누가 환자고 누가 가족인지 구분할 수 없을 정도다. 긴장의 순간도 잠시, ‘아리랑’ 연주에 맞춰 어느새 깊은 호흡을 내쉬는 움직임이 나비의 날갯짓처럼 여유롭다.

16일 오후 서울 혜화동 예술공간 서울의 ‘스튜디오 마루’는 ‘예술이 사람을 치유하는’ 현장이었다. 전문무용수지원센터(이사장 박인자)가 마련한 ‘파멜라 퀸의 파킨슨병 환자를 위한 무용 프로그램 워크숍’이다. 미국에서 온 파킨슨병 환우이자 ‘춤 선생’인 파멜라 퀸(65)이 40여 명의 환자와 가족, 강사들에게 무용을 통해 근육 경직과 싸워 이겨내고 있는 노하우를 공개하는 시간이었다.

전문무용수지원센터는 2017년부터 은퇴 무용수 직업전환 지원 사업의 일환으로 파킨슨병 환자를 대상으로 하는 ‘댄스 포 피디(Dance for PD, 이하 댄포파)’ 강좌를 열고 있다. 우울증이 심한 파킨슨 환자의 정서와 심리를 염두에 두고 무용수 출신 강사가 친근한 스토리텔링에 기반한 창의적인 안무로 경직되어 가는 근육을 춤추게 하는 자리다.

파멜라 퀸의 프로그램 ‘피디 무브먼트 랩(PD Movement Lab)’은 ‘댄포파’와좀 달랐다. 20여 년간 무용수로 활동하다 42세에 발병해 20여 년간 파킨슨병 환자로 살고 있는 만큼, 자신의 경험을 토대로 무용을 일상의 움직임에 적용하는 데 초점을 뒀다. 퀸의 고유한 방식은 파킨슨병 환자들의 이동성 향상에 혁신적인 접근으로 인정받았다. 이후 세계 파킨슨 회의 패널, 뉴욕대 협력 강의 등 다양한 활동을 하고 있다.

‘무용의 일상화’를 위해 가장 중요한 것은 상상력과 도전이다. 퀸은 아들의 축구수업에 따라갔다가 절던 다리를 회복한 경험을 들려줬다. “공을 차려면 무릎 아래부터 움직여야 하는데, 제 왼쪽다리가 정상이 아니었음에도 공을 찰 때는 정상으로 작동하는 걸 발견했죠. 나를 움직이게 할 적당한 환경과 도전이 있어야 된다는 걸 깨달았습니다. 밖에서도 공을 찬다고 상상하면서 ‘뻥, 뻥’ 하면서 걸었더니 정말 움직일 수 있더군요.”

“귀족이 됐다고 상상하라”는 주문과 왈츠 음악은 환우들을 유럽 궁정무도회로 데려갔다. “도전하라”며 바닥에 징검다리처럼 그어놓은 몇 개의 선은 환우들을 흥분시켰다. 퀸이 한 명씩 붙잡고 선을 따라 걷기를 유도하니, 얼떨결에 성큼성큼 다리를 건넌 이들의 얼굴에 화색이 감돈다. 시종 굳은 표정이던 환우 채봉석씨의 얼굴에도 성취감이 스쳤다. 몇 년간 그를 지켜봐온 ‘댄포파’ 강사들도 박수와 탄성을 쏟아낸다.

퀸의 방식은 댄포파 강사들에게도 새로운 통찰을 줬다. 김미영 강사는 “보폭이 좁았던 분이 한 번 경험 후 자신감 갖고 다시 도전하는 모습에 놀랐다”며 “예술적 성취도 중심으로 조심하며 움직이는 ‘댄포파’에 비해, 퀸은 자신이 환우인 만큼 능력치를 알고 있어 동작이 더 도전적이다. 일상 적용에 큰 도움이 될 것 같다”고 말했다.

상상력과 도전이 움직임 바꿔

18일에는 같은 장소에서 특별한 공연이 열렸다. 곱게 튀튀를 차려 입은 ‘백조’의 등장에 박수가 터져 나온다. 실제 발레 공연에서 주역이 입장하는 순간 같다. 차이코프스키의 ‘백조의 호수’가 흐르는 가운데 세종대 이윤지양의 오데뜨 솔로에 맞춰 환우들이 백조 군무를 춘다. 의자에 앉은 상태지만 상체는 고전 안무 그대로다. 음악이 트위스트로 바뀌자 환우도 관객도 저절로 벌떡 일어나 춤을 춘다. 캐롤에 맞춰 산타 모자를 쓰고 다 함께 신나게 만든 상상 속 ‘눈의 나라’에서 모두 하나가 된다.

‘댄포파’ 수강생들이 젊은 안무가 김무현씨의 지도로 한 달여 준비한 ‘발레를 바탕으로 한 겨울과 크리스마스’ 공연은 25분가량의 짧은 분량이지만 감동의 밀도는 대단했다.

공연을 마친 환우들은 벅차 보였다. 최진경씨는 “조금 힘들었지만 무지하게 재미있었다”며 “멋있게 안무해준 선생님이 고맙다. 우린 어디를 가기가 두려운데, 환우들과 만나고 또 우릴 이해해 주는 선생님 만나러 오는 게 마치 친정집에 오는 것 같다”고 말했다. 전문무용수지원센터 박인자 이사장은 “크리스마스 즈음에 아름다운 발레 공연에 직접 참여하며 잠시라도 환자임을 잊고 행복을 느끼시길 바라는 마음에서 준비했다”고 전했다.

보호자들도 함께 춤을 추며 얻는 게 많다고 했다. 김영철씨는 “아내가 자다가도 춤추는 것을 목격하곤 한다”면서 “항상 자기가 먼저 가자고 해서 2년째 오고 있다. 난치병이지만 단톡방에서 정보도 공유하면서 동병상련으로 질환을 이겨내고 있다. 공동체의 유익이 큰데, 홀로 투병하는 사람들에게 확산되면 좋겠다”고 했다.

‘댄포파’는 현재 24개국 250여 개 커뮤니티에서 시행되고 있다. 한국에서는 전문무용수지원센터가 운영하는 서울의 스튜디오 마루를 비롯해 인천 라이언 요양병원, 광주 파킨슨행복쉼터, 양산 부산대학교 병원, 대구서부보건소 등에 시범 클래스가 개설돼 강사가 파견된 바 있다.

크리스마스 앞두고 발레 공연도

댄스테라피의 개선 효과에 대한 연구도 흥미롭다. 2011년 독일 프라이부르크대학이 8개월간 11명의 환자를 대상으로 진행한 연구(표 참조)에 따르면 전신 경직과 손떨림, 안면 경직 등이 상당히 향상된 것으로 나타났다.

고려대 구로병원에서 ‘댄포파’ 강좌를 6개월간 관찰·실험하고 있는 고성범 교수는 “운동기능 평가는 아직 분석 전이지만, 우울증 개선과 언어 표현 호전이 두드러진다”면서 “언어습관의 변화도 주목할 만하다. 어둡고 말수가 적던 분들이 먼저 좋다고 얘기를 꺼내고, 음성이 작고 어휘가 단조롭던 분들의 표현이 명확해지고 어휘구사도 다양해졌다. 발음 근육과 감정 두 가지 측면이 모두 개선되었기에 가능한 일”이라고 평했다. 고 교수는 이어 “국가적 관심을 받고 있는 치매안심센터와 연계하면 확산이 빠를 것”이라고 덧붙였다.

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