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Annual Medicine & the Muse showcase spotlights Parkinson’s dance program

If someone accidentally wandered into a School of Medicine auditorium during parts of David Leventhal's address at the annual Stanford Medicine & the Muse event last week, they wouldn't have guessed he was talking about Parkinson's disease, the progressive neurological disorder.

The audience, several hundred strong, was on its feet. Leventhal, a former professional ballet dancer, stood in the front, leading them through a series of movements.

"You are reaching into a pool of warm water," he instructed. "Now you are receiving a gift... putting both hands together... You're shaking water off your hands. You're feeling and seeing the water."

Leventhal is program director for the Dance for PD program, the nationwide effort to get people with Parkinson's dancing. It helps them build strength, flexibility, stamina and balance, in a social, fun setting, Leventhal said: "They are able to connect with the physical powers they still have and actually be heard and seen and understood." (Stanford Medicine magazine featured the program in a recent story and video).

The program is not therapy, Leventhal emphasized. It is a dance class, but one that is inclusive of people with all abilities, from those who can barely move a finger to those who can boogie enthusiastically.

"The thing that’s interesting to me is that people become better dancers and in the process manage many of the challenges of Parkinson's with ease and grace," Leventhal said. By forcing the dancers to think about and plan their movements, dancing can even help them with activities that were once automatic, but now must be relearned, like walking.

Leventhal's talk followed performances by medical students that make the annual talent show/art exhibit/conversation a one-of-a-kind evening.

This year's event included a piece by first-year medical student Alice Li on the Chinese zither, a comedic aria by fourth-year Arunima Kohli, a soulful-bluesy rendition of "Amazing Grace" on the piano by second-year Sheun Aluko, and much more.

Previously: Writer Anne Lamott headlines annual Medicine & the Muse showcase and Stanford's Medicine & the Muse event mixes music, dance and pediatrics
Photo by Paul Sakuma

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