Beginning on Jan. 9, Mark Morris Dance Group will offer classes from its internationally-acclaimed Dance for PD program at the Queens Theatre.
The free classes, which will be offered online and in-person, are specifically designed for people with Parkinson’s or other mobility concerns to rigorously explore themselves artistically and move in ways that are beneficial to them.
All classes will be offered in both Mandarin and English, and bilingual classes in Spanish and English are set to begin in March 2022.
“Transportation can be a big barrier to access and engagement, and we want to reduce and dismantle as many barriers as possible,” said Maria Portman Kelly, Dance for PD’s program and engagement manager.
“We’re so delighted that the Queens Theatre is willing to work with us to establish classes in Mandarin, because language is a barrier as well, and Parkinson’s doesn’t discriminate,” she continued.
As for the structure of the class, they begin with a seated warm up consisting of somatic movement to ensure the dancers feel comfortable moving — since people with PD often feel stiffness in their bodies.
Then, to slowly invite them to stand up, they’ll perform a transitional combination to build lower body strength and prepare for the second half of the class, which is done standing up.
Dance combinations performed center floor are able to be done with the support of a chair.
Finally, the participants will come together and hold hands, providing a sense of unity and community among the group.
Dance for PD teaching artists emphasize that the class is by no means a watered down, therapeutic sort of environment, but actually a challenging, expressive outlet for dancers.
“I think the focus of Dance for PD is not about therapy, it’s about artistic expression,” said Coco Cao, a Dance for PD teaching artist and one of the founding teachers for the Mandarin classes.
“It’s an emerging field that we’re studying in depth of how music and dance can help people with Parkinson’s. The really unique part of Dance for PD is that we don’t think of the people as patients in a medical setting, we invite them to a dance class,” she continued.
Cao said that she loves being involved with the program not only because it motivates so many people, but because it also helps her reconnect with her Chinese heritage.
“I feel closer to my culture just by teaching this class because I learned so much about the ethnic folk dances along the way,” she said.
“So it’s really amazing just adding a Chinese twist when teaching this class and engaging with the community, speaking Mandarin.”
Both Mark Morris Dance Group and the Queens Theatre hope to make this a long-term partnership to serve the diverse population of Queens.
“Dance for PD is a program I have always had a great deal of admiration for,” said Jay Rogers, general manager and director of operations for the Queens Theatre.
“Mark Morris has done an admirable and beautiful job with the program. It allows people to make connections that they have lost, reclaim control of their motor functions and their presence in the room,” he continued.
“It really is remarkable and incredible to see people go through that transformation.”