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The Delight of Dancing & Music with Parkinson’s

Music makes you feel happy, mournful, engaged, soothed, or uplifted. People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) benefit from participating in musical programs including dancing. If you have a movement disorder you may think you’ll no longer be able to participate in many physical activities including dancing. That is not necessarily so. Dancing is good exercise, it encourages mental stimulation and social interaction, can reduce depression, and generally make you feel better.

Music therapy

The American Music Therapy Association promotes “the use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional”. It can improve quality of life for those with medical or psychological conditions. The Association fosters access to quality music therapy services used in a healthcare and educational setting.1

Parkinson’s disease, a chronic, degenerative, neurological disorder, is frequently characterized by a loss of motor function. It has serious non-motor symptoms as well. Cognitive and psychological decline may be present before the onset of motor symptoms. Physical deficits often progress with duration of the disease. Ongoing scientific research is exploring ways to slow progression. Scientific research generally concentrates on the development of medications to address disease symptoms; but music and exercise have a role in treating PD as well.

Music therapy has been demonstrated to be effective for people with PD. A review of music therapy programs in the scientific literature shows that playing and/or listening to music may have an effect on emotions, behaviors, movement, communication, and cognitive factors.2 The impact can modify brain activity. Studies have shown that the effects of music can result in changes to both psychological and movement-related symptoms in those being treated for PD. Many programs emphasize the dancing activity rather than call it therapy. Demonstrations by professional dancers inspire participants to recapture feelings of unrestricted movement and grace, fostering creativity and experimentation.

Neuroscience studies have shown that music stimulates the production of dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that are in depleted in people with PD.2,3 Music therapy has scientific implications in various rehabilitative treatments in multiple settings including health care, special education and rehab centers. Musical participation has been proven to contribute improvement in motor, cognitive, and sensory functions. These changes are significant for those who have been impaired by neurological damage; they build and foster self-confidence. Dancing can strengthen your physical confidence as well and is a natural anti-depressant. It works by releasing chemicals, including endorphins, which can make you happy and reduce stress.

Benefits of dancing

Dancing is good exercise with physical benefits for the general population as well as those with PD. Yet like Rock Steady Boxing (RSB), a non-contact fitness program designed specifically for people with Parkinson’s, dance/movement based programs have also been developed just for the PD population. They foster camaraderie and a comfortable way to interact with others where you are not defined by your condition.4

Dance for PD® – a technique

Dance for PD® is a program developed in Brooklyn, New York in 2001.4 Started as a non-profit collaboration between the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group, professionals developed dance classes specifically for people with PD. Those are based on technique and understanding of movement difficulties faced by people with PD. In the years since its founding, the Dance for PD program is now available in over 250 communities in 24 countries around the world.

Studies show musical therapy improves strength through movement

Professionally trained dancers are experts with knowledge about movement, balance and rhythm as well as order and aesthetic awareness. In ordinary circumstances, some people with PD find it difficult to have smooth uninterrupted movement. Freezing, uncontrolled shaking and spastic movements all can make it uncomfortable for people in public. Dance training can create integrated movements using all forms of dance, including ballet, tap modern and ballroom to create a social environment for exploration without stigma.

Individual benefits

Dance programs improve coordination, smoothness and precision of movement. First hand comments praising the program emphasize the powerful impact. “I am awed by the power of dance to transform and alleviate pain. Despite the steady advance of Parkinson’s, we show up. We move. We laugh. We share our best selves.”4

Often recommended by neurologists and movement disorder specialists, dance programs and other music therapy programs are likely available near you. To locate a music therapist visit:

  1. What is Music Therapy? American MusicTherapy Association website. Accessed online April 10, 2018.
  2. Dobson, C. Neurologic music therapy group helps people with Parkinson’s disease. Accessed online April 11, 2018.
  3. Dolhun, R. Music as Medicine for the Mind. Published September 25, 2015. Accessed online April 10, 2018


  • Dan Glass moderator
    3 months ago

    I wouldn’t want to live in a world without music! That said, my dancing ability has never been the best, though I’m glad other people can benefit from it.

  • dsberger27
    2 years ago

    I’m disappointed in this article about Music Therapy, and about Dance Therapy! They are NOT the same things and should not even be in the same article. I’m a PhD Board Certified Music Therapist who has developed a highly unique and very strong treatment program for PD, and can’t get anyone at this Foundation to even reply to an e-mail. My approach includes rhythm, music, movement, and minfulness activities in groups, and has shown to greatly improve cognition, multi-tasking, gain and balance! I’d love it if someone from this Foundation could contact me so I can discuss funding for this treatment – as I say, a highly unique approach based in eurhythmic rhythm and movement. My husband who has PD and was a former professional dancer took the Dance for Parkinson’s classes here in Durham, NC, and they were completely irrelevant and poorly conducted considering the needs of PD. Very disappointing! So be careful when you write articles and push programs that are basically not valid! Dr. Dorita S. Berger, PhD, MT-BC, LCAT

  • Chris H. moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Dorita – Thank you for expressing your concerns. I’m so sorry to hear that your husband didn’t benefit from the dance programs. We are not affiliated in any way with Dance for PD, nor The American Music Therapy Association. These organizations were mentioned in the references the editorial team used in writing this article. I wish you the best of luck with your treatment program! Thanks again for weighing in. – Chris, Team

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