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Class in south Forsyth helps patients with Parkinsons

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* Call Eleanor and Rob Rogers at (678) 710-1408 or email for more information about their Dance for Parkinson’s class.

* Classes are each Tuesday from noon-1 p.m.

* Dancers from the Mark Morris Dance Group will give a free class to members of the Parkinson’s community at Still Pointe Dance Studios, 1675 Peachtree Parkway, from 11 a.m.-noon as part of a performance tour through Atlanta.

SOUTH FORSYTH — In a dance studio in south Forsyth that usually fills with ballet students, a group of people sat in a circle, holding hands and taking turns to look and smile at each other.

Even the simple task of raising an arm or turning a head can prove difficult to them. In here, it gets easier.

At noon every Tuesday for an hour, Eleanor and Rob Rogers teach Dance for Parkinson’s at their studio, Still Pointe Dance Studios, to people suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

Medication, exercise regiments and even surgery are options for the cureless, chronic and progressive movement disorder that causes degeneration in motor skills. But programs like this class offer something more — community, support, music.

“Music helps movement, and movement helps slow down the progress of Parkinson’s,” said Tom Dorn, a class participant. “It’s easier to move when I’m doing the class. It helps the joints.”

His wife and caregiver, Judy Dorn, said for him to stand through the whole class is a feat.

He did more than stand.

Rob Rogers narrated the class, asking Dorn and participants — Parkinson’s patients and their caregivers side by side — to imagine holding and releasing a flower. Or to look up to see then sun. Or to walk and wave to a friend at the front of the room. All while music played in the background.

“In the context of dance, it’s using your imagination and inspiration with music. It’s a creative thing,” he said. “And it makes them push farther than if they were just alone doing exercises.”

Eleanor Rogers said having her husband teach the class with her helps the men — who are statistically more prone to Parkinson’s — feel more comfortable.

“And the caregivers don’t get a chance to move a lot either,” she said.

The class has no size limit and the cost is $5. The first class is free, and caregivers are always free.

“For us, this program is not therapy. It’s teaching a dance class,” Rogers said. “Dance for Parkinson’s is the class. But there’re only dancers here. There’re no patients.”

Movement and music, she said, brings a community together.

“It helps the spirit. Susan [who sat in a wheelchair and had to move with help from her caregiver] was smiling,” she said. “And she doesn’t usually even do that.”


‘Control and hope’


Many of the participants are patients of Kitty Chin, a physical therapist who treats people with Parkinson’s.

The class is part of a program designed by the Mark Morris Dance Group in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Chin was the leading force behind bringing a class to Forsyth County.

Chin said it took her “over a year to find a professional dancer who would be willing to teach dance to my patients.”

“People ask me to do things with my studio all the time,” Rogers said. “I don’t say yes to anything because I’m so busy. I say no to everything, and I said yes to Kitty I think before she even finished talking. I was moved to serve a different community of people.”

Larry Kahn, CEO of PD Gladiators Inc., a nonprofit network that supports a number of Parkinson’s movement classes throughout Atlanta and the metro area, wrote a grant to send Eleanor and Rob Rogers to New York to train with the Mark Morris Dance Group.

“Apathy and fatigue are often barriers we face. But [patients] do have some control over their prognosis,” Kahn said. “When I was diagnosed, I thought there was nothing I could do other than take the medicine. With this, you feel like you have some control and hope.”

PD Gladiators organizes class such as boxing and tai chi, but the Rogers’s class is the only official movement class in Forsyth County under the umbrella of the Mark Morris Dance Group.

John Fajfar was diagnosed with Parkinson’s five years ago, but he said he has had the disease for about eight or nine years.

He used to take the boxing and tai chi classes, but after two knee replacements and an Achilles surgery, he had to stop.

“It helps with balance and strength. It makes a big difference,” he said of Dance for Parkinson’s. “I love music, and the fact that I can do this while listening to music. And it’s fun. I was walking better after the first time.”