“I had done some research and I had learned that anything that is challenging is beneficial,” Craig Harris tells me over coffee. That is, I am drinking coffee. Coffee, Harris says, would bounce him right off into the stratosphere.
Harris has Parkinson’s Disease—a neurodegenerative condition that can cause involuntary movements and other symptoms such as difficulty speaking. I asked him how he manages these symptoms. Among other tactics, Harris has taken Alexander Technique classes. He did about two years of boxing. He does aerobics. He also takes Motion Pacific’s Dance for Parkinson’s class.
“Anything that has novelty in movement or challenge is beneficial. It is also enjoyable. I feel good after I do the Dance for Parkinson’s class.”
— Craig Harris
Motion Pacific is a nonprofit dance studio in Santa Cruz that puts on events and offers dance classes for youth and adult dancers, including a local chapter of the international Dance for Parkinson’s program. Motion Pacific instructors Molly Katzman and Maria Walsh teach the class.
“Dance for Parkinson’s is a movement class that is for people with Parkinson’s and their caregivers, family members, etc. It is taught by trained, professional dancers who have done Dance for PD trainings,” Katzman tells me in the downstairs studio at Motion Pacific. The class uses prompts to spark movement, facial expressions, and storytelling through movement. No previous dance experience is required.
“Inside of the class you can sit, stand, move about the space, use a barre—there’s all sorts of ways to participate that fit everyone’s personal needs. We teach different kinds and styles of dance. We teach jazz, ballet, partner dancing, improvisation, and social dances. We are always accompanied by a live musician — that brings a really expressive and felt layer to the class and to our movement,” Katzman continues.
Motion Pacific has been offering Dance for Parkinson’s classes for free since 2015, regularly serving people with Parkinson’s and their caregivers. Until the pandemic, dozens of people attended the in-person classes each week, which were fully staffed. COVID changed funders’ priorities. As a result, Motion Pacific had to significantly cut back its program. It went virtual only, and has seen significantly reduced participation, as only 5-10 of people participate in the Zoom classes.
Now, it aims to fully revive its program, with a new fundraising, of which its new campaign around Lookout membership is part.
This August, Lookout and Motion Pacific have partnered up to run a double giveback program: For every Lookout Membership purchased, 15% will be donated to the Dance for Parkinson’s program. Motion Pacific has found donors to match up to $1250 to support this amazing program for members of our Santa Cruz community.
It’s all part of an effort both to bring direct staffing back to the program by paying the teachers for their administrative and prep work for this class. This would allow more class offerings, making weekly in-person classes available for dozens of people. It would still maintain Zoom classes, useful to some, as part of a kind of hybrid approach many organizations and businesses now take.
Finally, with more funding for this program, Motion Pacific would also have the ability to partner with community organizations and spread awareness around the program so more people can join and receive the surprising benefits that dance offers to those with Parkinsons.
A safe place to move
Musician John Malkin is the accompanist for these Dance for Parkinson’s classes. He plays the piano and pan drum. “The pan drum and piano work really well for Parkinson’s type class. It adds a rich element. [It has to do with] the way these instruments resonate with the movement. Usually Parkinson’s movement isn’t really fast— it is kind of slow and it undulates. It works well with things that are vibrational,” Harris notes. Creating a safe space for people with Parkinson’s to move is paramount for instructor Walsh.
“One of the beautiful things about dance class is that people are moving together. They are also witnessing each other. [I think this is especially important] for people with Parkinson’s [because] their movement is often seen as really uncontrollable or strange even or it doesn’t fit with how you’re ‘supposed’ to move your body in public. I think to be witnessed by other people who affirm the way you move and who celebrate the way you move and just receive the way you move as wonderful is really powerful. And giving that back by watching other people dance.”
— Maria Walsh, Instructor at Motion Pacific
Katzman adds, “Dance is the vehicle for connection, community, embodiment, and expression. Beauty! Joy! Play! Grief! Processing! To feel! There is catharsis that comes with movement. And also, it is a way to be present in your life. Dance, for me, is a way that I am in my life more—I am more woven into the fabric of what is alive in that moment and what is happening. To be present with each other is such a gift that this community does well with.”
When I ask Harris—who now serves on the board at Motion Pacific—about the community element in Dance for Parkinson’s, he says, “Social interaction—especially if it is something like music or singing—is really beneficial. It makes you feel connected. Those ways of communication are really helpful to people with Parkinson’s because you can get depressed and isolated often if you have Parkinson’s. Dance class really mediates that. It is very positive, socially.”
“I think Zoom is harder for some people and better for other people. It is not a monolithic experience. Normally, Maria [Walsh] and I would be teaching together—it is always helpful to have two people if someone needs extra support moving through the space and for us to collaborate with one another is an inspiring thing for us as teachers. But, because there is a lack of funding, we’ve only been able to have one teacher at a time” shares Molly Katzman, instructor at Motion Pacific.
“Now, this is extra important during the pandemic because a lot of our students are mixed about if they want to come back into the space. If there are two of us, it makes it possible for one person to be focused on who is online, in a hybrid class, and have the other person be able to focus on the people in the space,” Katzman continues. “That would be amazing for the people who want to come back in person to come back. I, personally, cannot do hybrid by myself—to have people in space and also have the computer going. I am nervous about it! Because then I’m not watching people. And what if someone falls? It is too hard.”
Harris, for one, supports a hybrid format. “Zoom helps people who either can’t travel very easily or don’t want to and Live helps people who are game for that. So putting it together is a good combination that could serve more people.”
Along with going hybrid, Walsh and Katzman have ideas for how to expand the program. They want to increase partnerships with local hospitals, nursing homes, and caregiving organizations; bring Dance for Parkinson’s to offsite locations, as mobility can be challenging for some people with Parkinson’s Disease; and offer financial support to offset the cost of training a new instructor. Katzman and Walsh have worked towards these ends, but all their time outside of class is on a volunteer basis.
“There are a lot of organizations with which we could partner. It is a staff issue — we get paid to teach the class but that is it. All of our prepping, all of our communications, the extra stuff of creating promotional material, or making a flier, or dropping off flyers at hospitals, or trying to partner with [other organizations], all of that is just volunteer time. So, unfortunately, what I think happens is it gets pushed because we’re all working. All of us are passionate about it and want to make those things happen but it is not going to be a priority if we are also trying to do our paid work,” Walsh says.
Motion Pacific has been offering Dance for Parkinson’s classes for free since 2015. A combination of grants had allowed the studio to offer fully-staffed and accompanied classes — until the pandemic. In 2020, major funders shifted their focus to COVID-response initiatives and left Motion Pacific to fund the program out of pocket. The pandemic also brought the program online – a format which works well for some dancers, and not so well for others.
“More resources and funding could really help us build those community partnerships and help us thrive. That is part of the outreach. But also to be able to offer this class to a wider population of people—people who may not know it exists or can’t get to it. Arts organizations are going through such a hard time right now that it would be amazing to have funding for this class so it isn’t something that falls on Motion Pacific and so that we can continue to offer it for free.”
— Molly Katzman, Instructor at Motion Pacific
Dance is an essential means of expression and one which is uniquely beneficial for folks with Parkinson’s Disease. As Harris says, “It involves everything you do and, when you move, you bring everything to bear.”
This August, Lookout and Motion Pacific have partnered up to run a double giveback program: For every Lookout Membership purchased, 15% will be donated to the Dance for Parkinson’s program. Motion Pacific has found donors to match up to $1250 to support this amazing program for members of our Santa Cruz community. If challenge is good, this one is certainly worth the undertaking.
“The Dance for Parkinson’s program is an indispensable and significant part of Motion Pacific programming and the Santa Cruz Parkinson’s community. Funding this program not only pays working/teaching artists, but provides meaningful connection and access to movement and expression for people with Parkinson’s. Funding Dance for Parkinson’s allows the program not just to exist, but to grow and thrive.”
— Collette Tabone, Executive Director of Motion Pacific Dance