Participants trying out an experimental class at Canada’s National Ballet School. PHOTO: Jackielou Perez

Dancing the pain away

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By Tamara Sestanj

Every Tuesday morning at Canada’s National Ballet School, 20 dance students fill the room to learn a new routine. But these aren’t just dance enthusiasts – they are people living with Parkinson’s disease participating in a study to see if dance can alleviate their symptoms.

Rachel Bar, a graduate student in clinical psychology at Ryerson, initiated the 12-week pilot program.

“I know the physical and psychological and spiritual benefits of dance,” said Bar. “That’s sort of what drives my passion to bring dance to people that may feel that they’ve lost the joy of movement.”

While working on her undergrad thesis at York University about the effects dance has on the brain, Bar found that some of the brain activity that occurs while a participant is learning dance happens in the same regions of the brain that are affected by Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s disease progressively affects the nervous system. Those who suffer from the disease have trouble with movement.

Bar and her supervisor decided to start a study of their own to see if dance could help alleviate the symptoms of the disease. The study is a current collaboration between Ryerson and York universities.

“You’d be surprised how much of the dancer comes out of people that have never taken a class before,” said Bar.

Students are working to learn a full routine by the end of the program.

“Everybody is just encouraging and helping you to do things you never thought you would do,” said Hugh Crothswait, one of the participants. “Your awareness of having Parkinson’s and your limits of having Parkinson’s goes away.”

At the end of the program, participants will have their brain scanned while visualizing the dance they are learning as the music plays in the background.

“There’s no question that the people I’ve spoken to are enjoying the program and feeling like they’re getting a lot out of it,” said Bar. “The benefits to me are really obvious, we just need to validate it with clinical research.”


  1. I do agree dancing keeps the pain away. Dancing is a beautiful feeling, makes you calm and energetic. There are so many dance forms which are helpful as meditation. Thanks for this wonderful article.

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