Dancing to ease the pain of Parkinson’s


Parkinson’s disease turns daily tasks into an unbearable ordeal. Walking is disrupted by the threat of falling. It can take an hour to get dressed. The disorder results in muscle stiffness, tremors, and slowness of movement. As a result, sufferers can become depressed and isolated. But Julie Symmonds has found a way to help South Africans with Parkinson’s: dance.

One day, while Symmonds was teaching her ballet class, the grandmother of one of her students approached her. She had Parkinson’s herself, and told Symmonds of a programme in the United States that ran dance classes for people with the disease. Intrigued and inspired, Symmonds travelled to New York in 2015 to train as a teacher for Parkinson’s dance classes. Since qualifying, she founded Dance for Parkinson’s SA, running classes in the Western Cape.

Symmonds’ students are able to move better, have less muscle stiffness, and most of all, are able to enjoy themselves. The classes help decrease the effects of loneliness and depression. After each lesson attendees bond over tea. “At the end of the class you can just see they’ve loosened up, there’s a light in their eyes, and everything just seems easier and lighter,” Symmonds says. “You forget you’ve got Parkinson’s, and I think that is the greatest joy – is to escape from that thought.” Dance classes for Parkinson’s have spread across the world, and Symmonds is currently the only South African to have completed the teacher’s course in New York. But she hopes to share her love of dancing with as many locals as possible, and is looking towards a future where people with Parkinson’s are given the opportunity to regain not only movement, but joy, through dance.