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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Ron Kallinger dances with prospective student Savannah Smith at the University of Utah Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts & Education Complex in Salt Lake City Tuesday, July 7, 2015. In a collaboration between the Department of Physical Therapy and the Department of Modern Dance, Parkinson’s disease patients participate in dance, creative movement and physical therapy.

SALT LAKE CITY — "Five, six, here we go. Let's heel-toe."

Patients diagnosed with various symptoms of Parkinson's disease gather Tuesday mornings at the University of Utah's Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts and Education Complex for physical therapy dancing.

"I love it. It's so good for us. It looks pretty simple when you don't have Parkinson's, but when you have it, it is harder to move since you are so stiff," said Carol Huffman, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 12 years ago.

The free class, "Grey Matters: A Dance for Parkinson's Disease Program," is regularly led by Juan Carlos Claudio, an assistant professor of the U.'s Modern Dance Department, along with U. alumna Lennie Swenson, a physical therapy student with a bachelor's degree in modern dance.

Classes began in January after Claudio, the primary instructor, finished training to become a Dance for PD instructor in October at the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn, New York.

"We focus on the feet, and then we add in arms. That way you get different patterns in the body over a period of time," explained Savannah Smith, who has a bachelor's degree in modern dance and served as a substitute teacher for Claudio on Tuesday. "You can see over time they struggle a little bit, then go, 'Oh, I get the feet, so now I can do the arms.' Before you know it, they are smiling because they don't have to think about it as much."

Parkinson's disease usually affects people who are over 50 years old, and symptoms include shaking, tremors, slow movement, stiffness of limbs, and trouble with balance. The symptoms also gradually worsen over time.

The class focuses on supported movements, with the assistance of chairs and volunteer students, and unsupported movements after adequate stretching and warmup to ensure patients remain safe.

"It helps me with my coordination and balance," said Dan Gwin, who played both cello and bass in the Utah Symphony for 17 years before retiring in 2005 due to symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

The program is also designed to address the issues of balance and flexibility by incorporating large movements into dance routines, while helping patients fight isolation and depression through the expression of art, according to Dance for PD.

"Forward, forward, side, together," Smith said, instructing the rhythmically relaxing class to patients and volunteers.

Both patients and volunteers have their personal favorite dance moves, Gwin's being any movements that involve chairs, and Huffman's being the tango genre because she has watched it being performed on TV competition shows such as "Dancing With the Stars."

Each class also ends on a positive note of creativity and art to keep patients coming back by having both patients and volunteers pass around an imaginary orb of light to create fluid movement, with several participants pretending the orb of light is a soccer ball or basketball.

"I encourage anybody to do this. I think its critical to our well-being," Huffman said. "Being active physically and mentally is what we have to do to stave off some of the severe symptoms, at least as long as I can."

"Grey Matters" will be held throughout the summer from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Tuesdays at 1720 Campus Center Drive.

Email: chansen@deseretnews.com

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