Mark Morris Dance Group Pepperland
Artist Connections, Arts for All, Boston Community

Dance for PD® at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

On February 4 and 5, the Celebrity Series of Boston brought David Leventhal, the program director and founding teacher of Dance for PD®, a program of the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG), to the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Urbanity Dance. Dance for PD® offers internationally-acclaimed dance classes for people with Parkinson’s disease that “allow people with Parkinson’s to experience the joys and benefits of dance while creatively addressing symptom-specific concerns related to balance, cognition, motor skill, depression, and physical confidence” (read more about the program here). The workshops were a part of Artist Connections, a program of Celebrity Series’ Arts for All! Community engagement initiative, made possible by the support of our generous donors.

Below, Robin Baker, the Associate Director of Community Engagement at Celebrity Series reflects on the workshop at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Several things struck me in David Leventhal’s class at Beth Israel Deaconess on a Monday morning. It was an unusual day for me, since generally, the start of my work week means SITTING, talking, dealing with emails, visiting a neighborhood venue, partner or artist, etc. Instead, I was able to react to a variety of music played by a live pianist and move to it for 90 minutes in creative ways.

Dance and music are naturally symbiotic; we often experience great musical performances that make us want to dance and transport us to a happy memory, place, or era. When learning an instrument, you frequently come across references to dance. One of my flute method books has a tone exercise that reminds you to “hold, hold, hold and keep the spin in your sound moving like a ballerina’s foot extended high in the air exuding energy.” As a classical musician, I’ve learned technical details described by a physical directive. When learning about musical expression, my teachers have asked me to think of an emotion or an image, which is similar to how David led his dance class. During the workshop, David told participants to “imagine your arms are tree branches waving in the breeze” or described paper falling down. The latter conjured up a mental picture of the feather escaping from the Curious George book to the wind in Forrest Gump. David’s descriptions helped guide the movements taught in class.

In the workshop, David led us through a modified version of MMDG’s whole body warmup involving stretching, weight-shifting, and rhythmic accenting. An Argentine tango exercise incorporated foot and heel movements, with graceful arm and “dipping your partner” gestures. Motions simulating a rock, scissors, paper game became a mirroring exercise for dance partners. A sea shanty allowed us to toast our friends with grog and invited them to join us! In Pepperland mode, we danced to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and made a human wave across the room with gestures indicating our favorite Beatle (or not), which made us all smile. Dancing together we shared a common bond in live performance: like a benediction at church, we ended the class by holding hands in a huge circle, bowing to our neighbor and sang “It’s a Wonderful World” together. David gave us permission to all be artists in a personal way and engage our imaginations and not our limitations. It was one of the most emotionally moving performance classes I can recall being a part of.

A 75-minute panel discussion between the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center staff, Dance for PD® teachers, and participants followed the workshop. During the discussion, a retired audiologist and person living with Parkinson’s expressed her frustration with routine body movements and how dance allowed her to experience those movements again with ease and less anxiety.

Thank you, David Leventhal and the Mark Morris Dance Group for your incredible generosity and humanity.

Celebrity Series of Boston is grateful to our 2018-19 Season Sponsors Amy & Joshua Boger, and to the many individual donors whose generosity supports Arts for All!. Celebrity Series is also grateful to the following corporations, foundations, and government agencies for their support for Arts for All! programs in the 2018-19 season: the Barr Foundation through its ArtsAmplified Initiative, Boston Cultural Council, The Boston Foundation, Stephanie L. Brown Foundation, Susanne Marcus Collins Foundation, First Republic Bank, Liberty Mutual Foundation, Massachusetts Cultural Council, National Endowment for the Arts, Outside the Box: A Production of the Boston Arts Summer Institute, Bessie Pappas Charitable Foundation, The Peabody Foundation, Stifler Family Foundation, Tufts Health Plan, Anonymous, and other generous supporters.

Photos of Mark Morris Dance Group, Pepperland by Robert Torres

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