Dancers with Parkinson's disease in Leeds hoping to grace more stages after success of climate change performance

Leeds dancers with Parkinson's disease are hoping to grace more stages after the success of their climate change-inspired performance at the Riley Theatre in March.

By Tom Coates
Saturday, 7th May 2022, 4:45 am

Ascendance is a charitable dance company which offers people with Parkinson's opportunities to get involved in dancing in Leeds and Bradford,

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A group featuring Parkinson's sufferers took to the stage at Chapeltown's Riley Theatre in March with a performance named 'Iceberg' and the plan is to take to more stages in the future.

The group's performance at the Riley Theatre was inspired by climate change. Credit: Rachel Wesson

Ascendance's artistic director Rachel Wesson said: "We've just performed at the Riley Theatre, we had a cast of 16, so that was quite special.

"The theme was climate change, we called the piece 'Iceberg'. One of the participants was talking about how it felt very similar to her body, how it's crumbling but we have to be strong to keep going and to keep fighting.

"The performance piece was so successful, we're definitely hoping to take it to stages over the next year or two years, that's our plan."

Various reports and studies have outlined the benefits of dancing for those who have Parkinson's, a condition which affects the brain and causes problems such as shaking and stiffness,

Dancing can benefit people with Parkinson's in several ways. Credit: David Lindsay

Rachel explained: "The research is strongly suggesting that high intensity daily exercise can actually help stop the progression of the disease, which is really significant.

"It has therapeutic benefits as well as the physical benefits, so in the class everyone's very friendly and very welcoming. There's various different ages and stages, everybody's welcoming.

"We have seated and standing options. It helps with the balance, it helps with connecting the brain to the body when people hear the music, it really does enable people to move in a way that they weren't able to before they stepped into the class. We work on things like coordination, getting the arms swinging and and just general flexibility and stamina really.

"People, after the class, have said how much better they feel after the class and then that's carried on throughout the week, Improving that general fitness can be really beneficial, as well as the mental health benefits. Being with people, sharing those commonalities really helps people."

Sessions are run every Friday in Leeds and are hosted at St Chad's Church at Headingley. There are also sessions run via Zoom every Monday and Tuesday for those who would prefer to attend remotely or do not feel comfortable with the face-to-face interaction.

The group also welcomes those who do not have Parkinson's but are over the age of 50.

Ascendance made numerous adjustments during the Covid-19 pandemic but eventually found a way to bring dancers to St Chad's virtually.

Rachel said: "We still run two of our Zoom classes online, we got funded by the Big Lottery community fund and we had funding to open up a hybrid so we had the dual functionality, we had the Zoom room zooming into St Chad's.

"That was very challenging but it did allow people the choice to still keep connected with the community that they were familiar with. Some people chose to come face-to-face and some people chose to come online.

"We chose St Chad's because we can open all the windows, in the winter we just told everyone to wrap up warm!"

More information about the group can be accessed via the official Ascendance website.