KEALAKEKUA — The coordination and grace needed to be a dancer does not come easy to someone with Parkinson’s Disease. Instructor Marie Alonzo Snyder hopes to change that, if only for a moment.
“For an hour, I want them to feel like dancers,” Snyder said. “This is a dance class. And I’m aware of the things they go through with the disease, but we’re not going to dwell on it, at least for one hour.”
Snyder’s dance class, Hawaii Dance for Parkinson’s “Stretch, Balance and Move,” is held at 10 a.m. every Tuesday through March 12 at Kona Dance and Performing Arts (KDPA). Their movement normally limited by the disease, Snyder’s students follow her in a series of dance exercises that cater to their limitations, but also help push those boundaries.
“The class was created and developed based on a dance class. We use slow progression until they’re moving across a space freely,” Snyder said. “We start on the chair, and then move up on the barre, and then move to the center, and then we’re moving around through the space.”
Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement that others might take for granted, including walking, posture, balance and speech.
At Snyder’s class, the students are learning to take some of that control back.
From the outside, it might not look like the average dance class, but Snyder has a reason for each technique taught. She said those with Parkinson’s Disease sometimes aren’t able to control their movements using simple commands, such as left or right, so Snyder walks them through the dances using the imagery of every day tasks.
“We use a lot of imagery,” Snyder said. “Trying to be more simple and just imagery like, imagine walking through a puddle, or kicking someone, or pushing a door. It’s a different way of understanding that movement.”
“It works,” student Donna St. John declared, right before she was able to follow along with Snyder’s dance combinations. “I’m thinking we can add music that’s even more upbeat.”
St. John attends the class weekly with her husband, Tom. The two, also members of the Kona Parkinson’s Support Group, use the class not just for movement, but to meet others who are empathetic to their struggles. The class is open to all caregivers, family members and friends who want to dance with their loved ones.
“It’s about getting them out to socialize with other people,” Tom St. John said. “It’s also a big relief for the care partner to get out and they socialize too. There’s so much involved that the care partner has to be there all the time. Dancing would not be my choice but my wife loves it and it’s a good social outlet for us.”
Snyder has been teaching the class since 2015, first at Hale Halawai, and now at KDPA. The class currently sees an average of five to six attendees a session. While the winter series of classes concludes in two weeks, another set of classes will begin in the spring, on May 14.
“It’s kind of scary when you have Parkinson’s, a movement disorder, and when you see the word dance,” Snyder said. “So we’ve changed the title of the class to ‘Stretch, Balance and Move.’ It feels more accessible.”
Snyder also previously taught dance classes for those with Parkinson’s Disease in New Jersey. Helping those with the disease is personal for her. Her father has Parkinson’s Disease, and she periodically visits him in the Philippines to help him and teach dance workshops there.
Her goal is to free those with Parkinson’s Disease from the struggles of the disorder, even for a small period of time.
“I’ve always found dance to be like a haven, a very safe place,” Snyder said, “I grew up in Italy, so I was very different, so with dance I always felt it was just a place where you could be free and be yourself. So I feel that’s an important part of this class to — not dwell on what they can’t do.”