Take Root Returns to Oakland University for Dance for Parkinson’s Disease

Take Root, a non-profit professional modern dance company based in Rochester, held one of its monthly Dance For Parkinson’s classes on Sunday, May 21.

Take Root began in 2013 with its first full-length concert of the same name. Now, the group consists of seven performers and resides at Oakland University under the direction of its founders and fellow members, Ali Woerner and Thayer Jonutz.

“Dance for Parkinson’s Disease started in October of 2014 as a once a month class at Oakland University’s Varner Hall,” said Ali Woerner, the Co-Director and Co-Founder of Take Root.

The initial success of the first class, which drew over forty participants, began the monthly sessions that are still open to the public today.

“We have been holding the free of charge class one Saturday a month ever since,” Woerner said. “The Dance for Parkinson’s Disease classes are unique because they provide awareness and connection not just to those living with PD, but to the community at large.”

In the Dance for Parkinson’s classes, participants are empowered to explore movement and music in ways that are both enjoyable and creative. Each class also addresses PD-specific challenges like balance, flexibility, coordination, isolation and depression.

“The goal for Dance for Parkinson’s Disease is to reach and connect with as many people living with PD [as possible], including their spouses, loved ones and caregivers,” Woerner said. “We want them to know they have a place to come to dance, connect, feel supported and confident, and, most importantly, find that they don’t have to become invisible due to this disease.”

Parkinson’s Disease is a neurodegenerative brain disorder that progresses slowly in most people. Most patients will not show symptoms for years and then can live with the disease for an extended period of time.

A person’s brain slowly stops producing dopamine. As levels of dopamine decrease, a person’s ability to regulate movements, body function and emotions decrease too.

The incorporation of exercises that combat common symptoms and problem points is what allows Dance for Parkinson’s to be beneficial.

“Ali relates exercises and dance movements to what the benefits are for us,” Michael O’Donnell, a Dance for Parkinson’s participant said. “For example, stretching the arms wide to open up our chest muscles which tend to collapse and pull our heads and shoulders down.”

Besides focusing on physical movement specific to common issues, each class focuses on mental stimulation as well.

“She also requires us to come up with our own improvisations and interpretations, which exercises our minds as well as our bodies and gives us personal role, an ownership, of what we are accomplishing,” O’Donnell said. “I feel more alert, more in balance, more in control and more energized after each session.”

Take Root has already begun expanding its reach and providing these services to a larger piece of the community. This past September began weekly classes at the Older Person’s Commission in Rochester, and plans to start more class sessions at The Boxing Rink in Troy this summer are in progress.

“We laugh in every class,” Woerner said. “We have created a support group within these classes that lends to the positive mentality of those living with PD.”