Different Bodies

A poetic study of dance and people with Parkinson’s

Authored by: Sara Houston

The Routledge Companion to Dance Studies

Print publication date:  November  2019
Online publication date:  October  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138234581
eBook ISBN: 9781315306551
Adobe ISBN:




In an article I wrote when I had just started researching the experience of dance for people with Parkinson’s (Houston 2011), I made the claim that studying Parkinsonian movement may bring to light the movement qualities that dancers with Parkinson’s display. The idea behind this move would be to enlarge our understanding of dance and who dances: “rather than merely seeing the variation in movement as the result of dysfunctional bodies, respecting and describing the poetry formed through dance by each participant-dancer may allow the documentation of unique movement narratives using tools from dance studies” (Houston 2011, 344). I was frustrated by the gap in literature to promote understanding of the art form of dance among the clinical studies investigating whether dancing acted as a tool to help people walk or balance better. These studies were laudable in their attempt to uncover the instrumental benefit in dancing (Hackney, Kantorovich, and Earhart 2007; Hackney and Earhart 2009, 2010), but this gap meant that we were still none the wiser in exploring the art form itself as seen within the context of community dance projects and programs for people with Parkinson’s. In fact, measuring people before and after dancing meant that there was the danger of not engaging much with the actual dance event itself.

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Different Bodies


In an article I wrote when I had just started researching the experience of dance for people with Parkinson’s (Houston 2011), I made the claim that studying Parkinsonian movement may bring to light the movement qualities that dancers with Parkinson’s display. The idea behind this move would be to enlarge our understanding of dance and who dances: “rather than merely seeing the variation in movement as the result of dysfunctional bodies, respecting and describing the poetry formed through dance by each participant-dancer may allow the documentation of unique movement narratives using tools from dance studies” (Houston 2011, 344). I was frustrated by the gap in literature to promote understanding of the art form of dance among the clinical studies investigating whether dancing acted as a tool to help people walk or balance better. These studies were laudable in their attempt to uncover the instrumental benefit in dancing (Hackney, Kantorovich, and Earhart 2007; Hackney and Earhart 2009, 2010), but this gap meant that we were still none the wiser in exploring the art form itself as seen within the context of community dance projects and programs for people with Parkinson’s. In fact, measuring people before and after dancing meant that there was the danger of not engaging much with the actual dance event itself.

Having now studied the field for eight years, I now have the empirical data by which to expand on this idea and more understanding of what “respecting and describing the poetry formed through dance” might mean within the context of dancing with Parkinson’s. This chapter tackles my claim, but also goes further by discussing how the unique corporeality of dancers with Parkinson’s might help dance artists and dance studies scholars think differently about what engagement by community dancers means, particularly by those with a chronic medical condition. This discussion is significant for the field of community dance and in particular dance for health programs because it subverts common assumptions about community dance as benefit—as a therapeutic tool. My chapter introduces the disease and the group of participatory dance practices that come under the title “dance for Parkinson’s.” It characterizes them as arts practices and expands on their relation to the poetic. I argue that dance for Parkinson’s is mistakenly referred to as a therapy—a common characterization. Significantly, I propose, as a poetic practice it may exceed what it can do as a form of physical therapy and has implications for how dance artists may engage with participants, not as recipients of dance, but as collaborators and artists. Importantly, it also challenges perspectives on the function and intention of a participatory arts practice, when it is specifically for people with chronic disease.

My fieldwork focused on two areas: first an in-depth study (2010–2014) of the English National Ballet dance for Parkinson’s program (Houston and McGill 2015), and second, observation of other dance for Parkinson’s programs around Europe and in New York, as well as interviews with dance specialists worldwide. Additionally, my work has led to long-term participation as a mentor and dance collaborator in initiatives developed by international partners. This perspective, the in-depth and broad surveys, and also working as a collaborator have allowed me to gain insight into the content of a variety of dance for Parkinson’s programs worldwide and the concerns of artists, as well as to understand what priorities the Parkinson’s dancers had and what they valued by dancing. The nature of my inquiry with my European collaborators, which included people with Parkinson’s, was more open and studio-based, learning by dancing and learning what dance may teach us about capability and creativity.

Parkinson’s is commonly termed a movement disorder. It is characterized by progressive slowing down of movement, an increasing inability to initiate or stop movement, tremor, and rigid muscles. The symptoms produced cause increasing balance and stability issues, with falls being a serious consequence. The neurodegenerative condition also produces insomnia, constipation, drooling, diminished voice production and handwriting, apathy, and depression. Many people are increasingly excluded from social networks and participation in society. As it usually (but not always) strikes people over the age of 50, it is sometimes characterized as an ‘old person’s’ disease (Solimeo 2009). In putting forward a description of different bodies in dance, the Parkinsonian body would count as ‘different’ to the typical dancer’s with a lack of stable and directed movement, as well as an often advanced age.

Dance for Parkinson’s

Since the early 2000s, dance organizations, companies, and independent dance artists have been offering tailor-made dance programs for people with Parkinson’s around the world. From the pool of research that has been done and from participant testimonies, dancing seems to relieve people with Parkinson’s from some of their symptoms temporarily (Hackney and Earhart 2010; Heiberger et al. 2011; Houston and McGill 2013; Volpe et al. 2013; Westheimer et al. 2015). Dance’s therapeutic benefit to people with Parkinson’s is highlighted in these studies (mainly in terms of its physical impact), and the research has been emphasized in advocacy for dance for Parkinson’s programs. Several documentaries have also been made (see, e.g., Bee 2009; Iverson 2014; Cinconze 2015; Goddard 2016) that have been aired widely. In many of the film features, everyday difficulties are contrasted by people’s lives in dance, where they are valued and their achievements are celebrated.

Dance for Parkinson’s classes are taught in various dance styles, ranging from contemporary, Irish step dance, and improvisation, through to tango, kathak, and ballet. A common structure of a dance for Parkinson’s session starts as an inclusive circle of seated participants, followed by dancing holding onto a barre, or the back of a chair, followed by moving across the room. Dance artists working with a more didactic approach may differentiate movement so that participants may dance to suit their physicality and level of wellness. This may be as simple as offering a seated version of a standing task or using a basic rhythm rather than a complex one. Improvisation within sessions, such as in those run by DaPoPa in Grenoble and Paris, allows participants to dance according to their own way of moving, bound by a loose scaffold of openly interpreted instructions (a score). These instances of finding a framework or frameworks to include those of different abilities point to dance for Parkinson’s as inclusive in outlook and community-focused.

The impact of developing approaches to teaching and leading that allow people with a degenerative condition to feel capable is not to be underestimated. Parkinson’s takes away the certainty of controlled movement and may squash body confidence. The worldwide dance for Parkinson’s movement is growing quickly because people with the condition realize that they can feel good about themselves and feel capable by dancing, despite any worsening of symptoms. Parkinson’s bloggers, such as Bob Dawson (2007) and Kate Kelsall (2014), have been instrumental in sharing how they feel about dance. Kelsall (2014) claims that “Dancing is what makes life, even with Parkinson’s, worth living.” Dancers with Parkinson’s enact the notion at the heart of community dance practice that everybody can dance regardless of age or disability.

Community dance incorporates a variety of dance and movement practices that are process-orientated (Amans 2008). That is to say, they are centered on providing participant-focused dance experiences. In this way, advocates claim community dance can focus on being inclusive and collaborative and meeting people’s needs. Performance artist and dance scholar Petra Kuppers (2017, 110) argues that a process-orientated, inclusive approach allows for each individual’s expressivity to emerge: “This is dance with and for everybody, every body . . . in the sense that all bodies can be expressive and that this expression is something worth attending to”. In valuing the individual’s expressive body, the dance of those who do not conform may be seen as similarly important as those who possess a (young) ‘dancerly’ body and training.

Yet this situation does not represent either the common assumption about who dances, nor the reality as displayed in public theaters, mainstream community dance events, and in many popular televised shows. Youth and the able bodied dominate. Representation of the wider population is often missing in dance (Nakajima and Brandstetter 2017). The lack of visible representation of older and disabled community dancers marginalizes the practice that is going on and so makes discussion and documentation of that practice even more important.

Moreover, in loosely situating dance as rehabilitation or as a therapy for people with Parkinson’s, the emphasis is on instrumental outcomes, rather than prizing the artistic process. The practice therefore becomes labeled a health initiative, rather than an engagement in movement exploration and creation, and its contribution to the latter is ignored. Yet approaching dancing as community-based art gives the observer the start of a framework in which to talk about dancers with Parkinson’s, with the emphasis on ‘dancers’ rather than ‘Parkinson’s,’ on ‘art’ rather than ‘therapy.’ As Parkinson’s dancer Reggie declares in the documentary Capturing Grace, “There are no patients, only dancers” (Reggie quoted in Iverson 2014). Reggie’s remark is descriptive of the emphasis on art making, rather than on creating a clinical road map for treatment of Parkinson’s. The distinction gives observers of dance for Parkinson’s sessions the liberty to respect and describe “the poetry formed through dance by each participant-dancer . . . rather than merely seeing the variation in movement as the result of dysfunctional bodies” (Houston 2011, 344). It therefore seems appropriate to argue from a poetic standpoint. This distinction, as I will go on to discuss, is important for going beyond representing sickness as the identity of a person with Parkinson’s, as well as for acknowledging the contribution of dance for Parkinson’s to the family of arts practices.

The poetic in dance for Parkinson’s

A “poetics” is defined broadly by the philosopher Richard Kearney as “an exploration of the human powers to make (poesis) a world in which we may poetically dwell” (1998, 8). Following Gaston Bachelard ([1958] 1994), he argues that the human power of the imagination enables us to delight in the new and surprising images we formulate to make sense of our world and to attend to our surroundings in a different way. More seriously, the imagination also enables us to attend to others and to how we live in the world. This is a poetic act, Kearney argues, that has direct consequences for life. In this sense, poetics interacts with ethics.

This characterization of poetics seizes on the narrower definition within semiotics to expand on the potential that imaginative and non-causal images and actions might have, which is important in demonstrating dance’s connection to the poetic. In semiotics, the poetic function of language is seen as expressive, as opposed to referential. For example, language in poetry is not usually written or spoken to convey direct meaning of its content, which would be referential, but often to reflect on the poem’s internal structure and the relation of words and sounds to each other (Lodge 1977). Because metaphor is used as a primary device in poetry, the relationship between words and content is indirect. Words are related through similarity and contrast rather than being connected through a realistic chain of cause and effect in the minutiae of narrative, although there is an internal coherence to the whole.

The composite elements of poetry suggest that to be poetic means to draw attention to the internal structures of the subject in question (in this case dance performed by people living with Parkinson’s) as well as the character of those structures, in other words, qualities and expressions. The imagination is invoked in constructing and reading non-referential images or words, which then takes us to a different way of looking at things. As Stephanie Jordan and Helen Thomas (1998) demonstrate, a poetic analysis of a dance work will unearth different interpretations than a referential analysis, and importantly, expand interpretations: “there are many other possibilities, many yet to be discovered as new interpretations emerge, if we admit the poetic function of art. The picture becomes far more complex and, we think, more intriguing” (248). The extrapolation to thinking about poetics as an investigation into how we may approach our lives and live poetically is a valid next step. Kearney suggests that, as humans, through our imaginations we have the power to convert “actuality into possibility, what-is into something-other-than-it-is” (1998, 4). In other words, human potential resides in how we poetically respond in our world.

It is possible, I propose, that a poetics of art, of dance, is an exploration of the mechanisms of dance that make a world in which people may live with imagination. In particular, I would like to contend that exploring the poetry within dance for Parkinson’s may allow us to see how it is possible to approach this activity as an artistic response to living imaginatively in the world, rather than necessarily a tool for self-managing a degenerative condition. Using Kearney and Bachelard’s definition of poetics as a starting point to discuss dance for Parkinson’s, I concentrate in this chapter on instances where Parkinson’s dancers have used improvisatory techniques. Because the dance for Parkinson’s movement is an umbrella term under which sit many dance forms, practices, and teaching styles, it is prudent to narrow down the focus. Improvisation is a dance practice that is well suited to the discussion of poetics because it not only impels movement creation through various choreographic frameworks, but also invokes the imagination through the negotiation of moving in the present with others. Ann Cooper Albright (2003, 259) clarifies that improvisation as a philosophy of life “is a way of relating to movement and experience: a willingness to explore the realm of possibility.” Improvisation explores the ‘what ifs’: “Most improvisational training works to release the body from habitual responses, whetting one’s curiosity about ‘what ifs.’ Improvisation often crafts an awareness of aesthetic priorities, compositional strategies, and physical experiences” (261). Thus this movement practice addresses both the narrow and expanded definitions of poetics.

Leonard and Margaret

Leonard and Margaret stand opposite one another. They are carrying out a familiar task within dance for Parkinson’s classes, that of mirroring. Margaret, I think, although sometimes it is difficult to tell, initiates the movement, Leonard following very closely. They lift their arms slowly up and then out to the side, as if describing the shape of an enormous beach ball. Then sharply, the couple (they are partners in life) hinge in their elbows bringing their forearms close to their chests, fists bunched. Then softening, their hands open, leading their arms up above their heads to split to a long diagonal line, one arm down, one up, slightly undulating, as if caught in a breeze, with their bodies reciprocating. Their eyes are fixed on each other, absorbed in the task at hand, occasionally breaking into a smile. Margaret brings her arms down in front of her, her palms up as if offering them to her partner. Leonard does the same and they bow their heads as they turn their palms down before both strongly sweep their arms to one side across their chest, their heads inclined. All the while their gaze is fixed on each other.

My description above was taken from a film (Nunn and Trevitt 2012) made during an English National Ballet residency at Tate Britain. The company’s dance for Parkinson’s program occupied one of the galleries for a day during the residency and the film was shot then. 1 The film, significantly, offers no explanation of Parkinson’s, nor talks of any benefits. The camera swirls around Margaret and Leonard, as the music by Ezio Bosso characterizes their movement in a driving 3/4 time. It is not even clear which member of the couple has Parkinson’s. What the camera draws to our attention is the beauty of the simple movement, made all the more special by the concentration and focus of the two dancers, underscored by the camera that circles around them like they are in their own special world. It draws our attention to the connection between them. Indeed, the mirrored movement and the concentrated gaze together give the impression of the quality of care—care in following the rules of the task, but also a loving care, perhaps in the pleasure of dancing together, or in that sense of care that only two people who have been together for a long time exude. The graceful, soaring columns of the Tate’s Duveen gallery give space to the duet, allowing the simple movements a respectful space for them to be seen and given plenty of room to emerge organically.

The film made of Margaret and Leonard’s dance encourages me to see it poetically. It does not dwell on the real-life difficulties that Margaret encounters as a person with Parkinson’s. It does not dwell on Leonard’s challenges as partner and caregiver. Instead it offers me a way of seeing that focuses my eye on the qualities of movement. It focuses my eye on the trajectory of movement, the lines and circles traced with hands and bodies, and the intimate relationship between the dancers and between them and the large space they are in. It allows me to reflect on the movement of the camera in relation to the dancers and the music’s role in this improvised event. In focusing on the poetic—the intrinsic elements of the film and the internal structures of the movement—it offers an interpretation that does not reach for our sympathy or pity because dancers with Parkinson’s are the subject matter, nor does it ask us to applaud because they are dancing rather than shaking. Instead, it allows the viewer to see the dancing couple in a different light, one in which the spectator’s delight is focused on the intimate, nonverbal conversation. Moreover, a poetic reading amplifies the movement that is there and the playful intertwining of movement dynamics and qualities. The consequence of this is that the viewer may understand that Parkinson’s, and Parkinsonian movement, is neither the sum of the people in front of them, nor the sum of their movement potential. Dance is ideally placed to poetically highlight this potential, this other way of thinking about Parkinson’s. Dance philosopher Einav Katan explains:

Rhyme, inversion, and antithesis come about in dance as the playfulness of changes and inversions within physical dynamics. New bodily arrangements deliver novel movements that are not requested outside of the realm of the dance. Therefore, new physicality emerges and substitutes for the practical world of bodily behavior. (Katan 2016, 73)

The nonliteral transposition of movement or words may point to new relations between bodies and movement, and the sensuous coupling of dynamics and qualities may be evocative of our human understanding and experience. This includes dancers with Parkinson’s. Margaret and Leonard’s improvisation illustrates an artistic response to conceiving of a world of possibility. In looking at dance poetically, it is possible to see that Parkinson’s dancers participate in an activity that is not devised to cope with a diminished body, in the sense that a diminished body has to be acknowledged by therapy, but with a positive embracing of what a dancer with Parkinson’s can contribute within dance.


Advocating for a poetic vision of dance for Parkinson’s programs has implications for how dance artists run sessions for people living with the condition in how much emphasis they and the participants place on using choreographic devices, such as scores, or interpretative elements, such as quality, dynamics and rhythms of movement, or meaning generation, such as working with a theme. Changing the perspective or vision of dance for people living with Parkinson’s also has significance for dance artists to develop socially engaged dance practices that are fundamentally connected to their own movement work in a professional concert setting, as well as validating the artistic contribution of the dancers (Houston forthcoming). Creating community work with a poetic, rather than a therapeutic, vision may allow dance artists to more readily interact with community dancers. A poetic vision challenges the perspective that Parkinson’s dancers are only there to receive therapeutic benefit and therefore have little to do with the field of professional dance. To illustrate, I put forward two other examples of dance for Parkinson’s programs that prioritize poetic internal structures above the use of dance as a therapeutic practice and that have subsequently demonstrated enriching experiences for dance artists and participants in different ways.

In Dance for Health’s studio in Rotterdam, several dancers improvise in the space. Led by choreographer Itamar Serussi, they work to explore creative ideas in movement through a series of imaginative propositions: a score based on investigating the relationship of one body part to another within different limitations or emphases, such as time, volume, dynamic, and other dancers. One man walks in vertiginous heels, playing with his center of balance. At moments, he teeters on the edge of instability, at other times he walks tall and proud, filling the room with his glamour. A woman rolls on the floor, finding momentum and different dynamics. I can hear the rhythms of her breath. Two others work together facing each other, arms behind their backs, hands splayed like swan wings. Another woman sits on a chair, gently rocking. The quiet movement draws my attention in its simplicity. Two of these dancers have Parkinson’s (including the one in heels), another has multiple sclerosis (MS); the remaining two define themselves as able-bodied and professional dance artists. After four half days of intensive dancing, the two participants with Parkinson’s relate how elated they feel—elated from dancing, but also from working in a manner that was focused on creating something new. They felt they were treated differently, “like a professional” (Yvonne 2017). The Parkinson’s dancers are not there because they feel the need to be helped through dancing. They are there because they may offer something productive to the creative collaboration. The dancer in heels, Marc Vlemmix, wrote:

Working with a professional who takes me seriously as a dancer, who doesn’t approach me as the sum of my disease, makes the difference. Dancing as a form of art is closely connected with my core and the fact that Serussi treated me as a dancer, not a Parkinson’s patient, was incredibly valuable for my sense of identity and for my creative potential. (Vlemmix 2017, 23)

Moreover, the able-bodied dancers confided that their peers fed them with new movement and new ways of approaching movement. The dancers with Parkinson’s and MS could offer new movement and new approaches to movement because of their conditions, which impose particular constraints upon bodies that the able-bodied dancers do not experience and do not know how to navigate. Their able-bodied peers appreciated that within the dance space, Parkinson’s and MS became touch points for movement generation, rather than bodily degeneration.

The poetry in the Dutch project is in the structured exploration of how moving differently creates a new dialogue with the dancer’s material and imagined body. New movement propositions relating to temporality and sensuality are imaginatively rendered material through improvisation, which in turn proposes new possibilities, both in movement and in relation to the self. Vlemmix, tall, with Parkinson’s, and dancing in high heels, is a good case in point. The slow grandeur of his movement is matched by a cheeky confident poise most often seen in burlesque dancers. He himself contrasts this with his “eight years of Parkinson’s, balance and walking problems” (Vlemmix 2017, 23). The dancer in heels tells through movement a story different from that of the man with Parkinson’s. Heels do not just physically alter posture and movement, but they also suggest, tease, and subvert (particularly if a man wears them). In other words, they provoke the imagination both in the wearer and observer. This combination of imagination and unusual physicality presents an alternative story, as improvisation scholar Kent De Spain suggests:

One of our most profound capabilities as humans is the power to affect, even fundamentally alter, the nature of our reality in the moment through images and the imagination. The imagination can make the “not here” sensorily available to the “here,” causing absent places and things to suddenly seem present. (De Spain 2014, 128)

In Vlemmix’s situation, the absence due to Parkinson’s of a lithe fluidity is created through his improvisation in high heels, materially and in the imagination, and this, for him, leads to another way of being:

Now, at the age of 45 . . .I found out that I like to push myself to the limit, I like to “walk on the tips of my toes”. . . .

Then what?

Out of balance?


Is it physically? Or is it fear?

What happens first, the physical

Un-balance or the fear for it?

And is it possible to completely

Go beyond it,

To let loose the break,

Get on the dance floor,

Just go and don’t stop.

In a flow,

Like Cinderella at the ball


Without fear

Enjoying yourself

Feeling beautiful!

Happily ever after. (Vlemmix 2017, 23, italics and typesetting in original)

Albright suggests that improvisational practices “encourage a willingness to cross over into uncomfortable territories, to move in the face of fear, of what is unknown” (2003, 259–60). Vlemmix makes explicit reference to moving in with and beyond his fear in his writing above. Albright calls this type of experience “dwelling in possibility,” inhabiting a space “that is more than the sum of its parts, such that that space makes things happen” (260, italics in original). The imaginative and material exploration that allows Vlemmix to face fear poetically expands his internal and external space.

At Dance Well in Bassano del Grappa Italy, local residents with and without Parkinson’s join together to dance every day. Their classes, which encourage improvisation, are punctuated regularly by engagement within artistic residencies by international contemporary dance choreographers, such as Francesca Foscarini, James Bachelor, and Yasmeen Godder, as well as performance artists, such as Marina Abramović. Often, the choreographers do not have much experience of Parkinson’s. Yet the participants eagerly seize the chance to make work and perform, guiding the choreographers as to what they are interested in exploring.

In 2018, the group created a performance called Oro. L’Arte di Résistere (Gold. The Art of Resisting), which was based on local World War I and II history, and also referred to the dancers’ own biographical stories of resistance (Foscarini 2018). The town received the Gold Medal for Military Value for resisting the Austro-Hungarian forces between 1917 and 1918, concerning which the author Ernest Hemingway, who was recuperating from injury in Bassano at this time, gives an account in his 1929 novel A Farewell to Arms. In World War II, local partisans were hunted down and hung from trees by the Nazis after the Armistice. The dance work took Hemingway’s writings and handed-down stories (including the hangings) recounted by participants in the group as the basis for the devised work by Italian choreographer and dancer Francesca Foscarini. The group, already used to improvising, were able together to devise the piece around the narratives. It was performed in a small chapel as part of Bassano’s BMotion contemporary dance festival and has subsequently toured to other places. The production was well received for its emotional power: several of these performers had been children at the time of the hangings and their accounts were harrowing. The trauma of the event was embodied in these now older performers, some of them frail with Parkinson’s. Their vulnerability was highlighted by the movement challenges, such as getting up from the floor, yet their ability to cope was underlined by the closeness of the group. The emotional power also came from this closeness. These performers had been dancing together for several years, and their familiarity with one another—the strong eye contact between them, the intuitive awareness of when to move in response to someone else, the ability to help quickly when someone got stuck or felt a loss of balance without destroying the structure of the piece, the comfortableness in receiving touch—pointed to their closeness and to the challenge and loss felt by a community when a traumatic event takes place. The requests to tour the piece to other venues highlight how community dance work may cross into frameworks (in this case touring) that are usually reserved for professional productions. The emotional strength of Oro, produced through structured improvisation around a theme still resonant in the dancers’ lives, emphasizes the affective power of the poetic production. In this dance work, the performers create a moving and embodied response to a traumatic period in their own history and that of their families. The past is there in memory, but also recreated and re-envisioned within the making of the dance work. As De Spain points out, images like the ones created through the dance work

are created from the reality of sensation and the complex process of memory. But they can also create a new reality of their own, reified in movement and with momentum reaching into the future. Their weight-less quasi-existence becomes a powerful embodied presence demanding to be fulfilled, rejected, or danced with and around. (De Spain 2014, 129)

The powerful, poetic interplay between images of the haunting past and the fragile physical reality of the dancers’ present coalesce and create a new, life-affirming future. In the last scene, each dancer’s hand is brushed with gold, “almost as a mark of belonging and recognition” 2 (Distefano 2018), and then each dancer takes an audience member onto the dance floor to waltz together to the iconic tune of Sensa Fine (Endless). Everyone in the room is dancing in an embrace at the end. Kearney’s notion of exploring how to live poetically in the world is emphatically shown here through dancing and through the process of devising the production.


These instances of programs and other initiatives for people living with Parkinson’s center on their poetic relationship to dance. In all of the examples given above, the impetus to move prioritizes artistic frameworks and devices, rather than having a therapeutic motivation. In each, this allowed either the participants, dance leaders, or both to enrich their experience of movement, and sometimes performance. The examples given used movement tasks and other improvisatory methods to elicit exploration of the poetic, guided by an experienced facilitator. Improvisation need not be the only approach to broaden poetic understanding, but in the instances highlighted here, improvisation became the vehicle for enlarging what is understood as dance movement for people with Parkinson’s and what it is assumed that they can cope with, as well as what they may offer to the world poetically. In this way Jordan and Thomas’s (1998) conclusion that the poetic opens a work (or practices) up for new interpretations is correct. It is possible to concentrate on the poetic to receive new information and understanding about how movement and dance works through observing Parkinson’s dancers in action, not just to reduce their symptoms. Focusing on the poetic also highlights how people with Parkinson’s may not just be seen as needing help, but may offer a worthwhile contribution to dance making.


The film was shown as part of the Random Acts series for UK television broadcaster Channel 4 (Channel 4 2018). Random Acts was designed to showcase bold and innovative arts through film shorts, falling outside of the conventions of arts broadcasting.


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