By: Diane Feen Contributing Writer
The dance studio at Boca Ballet Theatre is a large space for the artistic reverie of dance.
It’s a place of study and performance, where good dancers become great dancers and newcomers learn to dance with delight while soaring in a zone of delicacy and intricacy.
But on Mondays and Thursday’s from 1 to 2:30 p.m. the ballet curriculum takes on a new slant. One that is less structured and more forgiving – one that takes its cue from the dancers not the rigid criteria of formal ballet.
The mirrors bear witness to each students’ form, and the ballet barre lends support for poses. But a few unlikely accoutrements lay nearby two afternoons a week – walkers, wheelchairs and canes.
At first it is a bit startling. But it quickly becomes a badge of honor for dancer within this narrow demographic. The dancers all have Parkinson’s Disease yet gather at Boca Ballet Theatre for a free bi-weekly dance class called BBT4PD.
The dance experience has become a safe port in the storm for those living (and coping) with a disease that attacks the neuro-muscular system and physical form. All those who attend are on a different spectrum of ability yet share a common goal – to get exercise that limbers up their torsos with a sweetness and sensibility sprinkled into the experience.
“This is the highlight of my week. When I get here I can barely walk, but when the music reaches deep into me, my feet start moving,” said Rabbi Merle Singer, Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth El of Boca Raton.
Fellow dancer and Parkinson’s patient Martha Landers also delights in this rigorous delicate movement. “This is a haven for me. I feel welcome, and the people here understand what I am going through. I feel better afterward, and I look forward to being surrounded by the caring instructors and supportive volunteers.”
The instructors are accomplished dancers trained specifically for the task of teaching ballet in whatever form it takes to get students moving.
The director of the program, Cindy Surman is one of only seven instructors certified by the founding organization Dance for PD® (a non-profit by Mark Morris Dance Group and Brooklyn Parkinson Group). Surman is dedicated to the art and purpose of helping and healing her students.
The 90-minute class flies by with a serenity and sweetness that is atypical in our fast-paced culture. But like the students – who are often slower in poise and purpose – the class is the perfect blend of movement and momentum.
It starts with breathing and warm-up exercises and progresses to chair movement. Dancers move to the ballet barre (some with aides) and raise their legs and arms in tandem with piano music that synchs perfectly with each moment. Some students sit in wheelchairs while others flutter in tune to the melodies played by Dr. Martha Brown. “I love doing this. It is an opportunity to use my music in a way that makes a difference in people’s lives. The music gets them moving and helps them,” said Brown as she wiped tears from her eyes.
The BBT4PD class is a series of poignant moments of personal strength to move beyond impairment. It’s a ballet of human fortitude mixed with exertion by those with Parkinson’s Disease. There is no complaining or discussion, only compassionate leadership by Surman and instructor Dennis Lue. While at the barre – or in the middle of the studio – dancers are asked to lift their arms “as if you are painting the sky,” says Surman.
Students move slowly but their reverie for the experience matches the dedication of Surman and Lue. Volunteers surround students like gentle angels providing emotional and physical support. “We are not teaching technique, we use a special combination of movements to counter the effects of Parkinson’s. They often have rigidity, tremors and postural imbalance – this class touches on these issues and increases their mobility.”
The intention for this unique class at the Boca Ballet Theatre is pure – and it shows. One student felt so good after the class that he left without his walker. Others leave with a sweet afterglow that masks their physical limitations. “This is my happy fun place. It is welcoming and uplifts me,” said Lorraine Sanders.
Ann Kreiman flashes an illuminating smile after class. She loves the instructors – who are selfless in their devotion – and the live music. “We have become like a family, I look forward to this class every week.”
The BBT4PD class is a free dance class for those living with Parkinson’s and their caregivers. It is supported by generous donors and local organizations. Contact Cindy at 561-995-0709 ext. 226 or firstname.lastname@example.org