Research-informed graphic novel expands on the benefits of music and dance for PD
The collaborative research lends a voice to Parkinson’s disease patients who find both practical and personal meaning in dance as part of their therapeutic treatment.
Dancing is a unique form of creative expression that can transform movement in people living with Parkinson’s disease . It brings an arts-health perspective that can help people keep moving. Dance promotes wellbeing and is an integral part of human culture, recreation, celebrations, rituals, and artistic expression . It can also be seen as a form of therapy to help people fight the movement disorders and non-motor symptoms that are the hallmark of Parkinson’s [3,4].
Dancing is a very enjoyable way to keep moving and stay connected. This is very important for people living with Parkinson’s because movement can become slow, and more than 60% of people with Parkinson’s experience falls . It can be challenging to adhere to routine exercises over the long timespan of Parkinson’s, so exercise choices are needed.
Dancing and music are believed to facilitate neural plasticity in Parkinson’s by improving blood flow, promoting cortical reorganisation, and increasing physical activity levels . As well as the benefits of exercise, dance uses cueing and rhythmic music to trigger movement. Also, social engagement linked to dancing in classes with partners or online is argued to motivate people to keep moving for longer. It can also bring happiness!
A recent collaborative Danish research project Dancing with Parkinson’s contributes experience-based knowledge by people with Parkinson’s about how music and dance offers more than training alone [5,7]. Interviews were conducted with 37 people with Parkinson’s who dance regularly, supplemented with 6 spouses and 7 dance instructors. The researchers collated 3 themes:
Music and dance are combined in ways that bring benefits related to remembering good times through songs and dances, enjoying learning various dances, and feeling happy. People with Parkinson’s report gaining energy, vitality, mobility, and sensory awareness, which motivates them to continue dancing [6,7].
Social relations are important, and a dance community helps combat isolation and stigma. Dance is perceived as different from the obligatory physiotherapy and training that disciplines the body.
Dancing is existentially meaningful as artistic activity that improves quality of life without medicine or side effects. Some even find that dance and music promote spiritual and sensual well-being and acceptance because their lives are expressed through song and dance.
The interviews formed the basis for co-produced research communication in a graphic novel  aimed at telling stories about living with Parkinson’s, encouraging empathy and hope, and spreading the joy of dance and music.