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Dance is therapy for Parkinson’s disease patients

Dubai expatriate teaches dance free-of-cost as therapy to manage the disease

  • Members of Movement Mantra at Vonita Singh's home after a dance session.Image Credit: Supplied
  • Members of Movement Mantra at Vonita Singh's home during a dance session.Image Credit: Supplied
Gulf News

Dubai: The UAE has over a 10,000 residents suffering from Parkinson’s disease (PD), a chronic neuro-degenerative brain disorder that impacts basic body movements. Nearly one per cent of the global population suffers from PD, a condition that once primarily affected the middle-aged and the old and is now appearing to impact those in their twenties and thirties.

The condition impacts the nervous system and is marked by tremors, muscular rigidity, and slow, imprecise movement. It is associated with degeneration of the basal ganglia of the brain and a deficiency of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

On the occasion of World Parkinson’s Disease Day on Tuesday, Dubai-based Indian expatriate Vonita Singh who started a special dance group, Movement Mantra (MM), in 2013 told Gulf News how her growing group of members actually saw exponential benefit in their condition through dancercize. Her classes are offered free of cost twice a week.

WATCH: Dance therapy is helping people with Parkinson's move and connect


At the Sindhi Ceremonial Centre in Bur Dubai, 15 members suffering from PD stand together in solidarity, using movements of classical dance and yoga to improve their gait and flexibility. The synergy among the group helps them find their feet, quite literally.

Dr Willem van der Kamp, neurologist at the German Neuroscience Centre, Dubai, explained the significance of exercise in managing Parkinson’s. “The main symptoms of PD include muscle pain/stiffness, decreased flexibility and loss of balance so we encourage patients to do gentle exercises in order to help strengthen and train their muscles. This can also help avoid falls and other complications. Another important benefit is that by exercising and alleviating pain and stiffness, it enables the patient to undertake daily activities and tackle depression.”

Singh was inspired to start this group affected by her personal tragedy when her father who suffered from PD passed away in 2009. “My dad’s demise left me ... with a strong desire to turn this void into an opportunity … and Movement Mantra was conceived.”

Singh, who received her training from the Marks Morris dance group in Brooklyn, New York, started Movement Mantra inspired by Morris’ special dance for Parkinson’s programme in 2013.

“I blend elements from my Kathak dance lessons (an Indian classical dance form) and yoga to create fun and impactful exercises for the group,” she said. “Research by the European Parkinson’s Disease Association and many others has shown that when practising any form of art, the brain rewires itself to bypass the autonomous nervous system. Dance as an art form has great potential and works as an amazing tool of intervention for people with PD,” she said.

According to ‘Shake It Up’, Australia’s Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (www.shakeitup.org.au), dance classes for people with PD are ongoing in more than 75 communities around the world.

Research by the European Parkinson’s Disease Association and others has documented the therapeutic effects of practising any form of art on PD patients.

Singh, who runs the enterprise alone with a 90-minute session held twice a week, is looking for more interactions with doctors, therapists, patients and their families. “Dubai has a strong track record of innovation. I recollect the strong efforts in creating awareness for autism, and the tremendously positive impact it made. I am looking towards the government and health-care community for something similar for movement disorders.”

Those interested can contact Singh on vonita.movementmantra@gmail.com. The classes are held at Sindhi Ceremonial Centre, Bur Dubai from 10.30am-12pm on Sundays and Wednesdays.

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