Movement performed in synchronicity with more than one body is a common choreographic tool, creating an increased visual impact and agreements in execution by the dancers involved. When people with Parkinson’s execute movement in unison, they are able to accomplish more when they are in a group than when they move alone. Entrainment, in the biological sense, refers to the synchronization of an organism to an external rhythm. What is occurring in the body and mind when this ‘togetherness’ is accomplished and what neurological benefits transpire when movement is achieved in unison?
If we understand brains as embodied, then it is our bodily experiences and our movements that affect and form our brain activity and shape our minds, respectively. One way to understand our brain functions is to understand how brain and body interact and to comprehend how our movements are connected to the activities in our motor cortex. Dancers approach embodiment as a physical travel through textures, senses and thoughts to arrive at an as fluid and multifaceted body as possible. Their movement research is also a constantly evolving process to better understand and then manipulate for a desired outcome the embodiment of their thoughts and expressions. If one doesn’t look at the brain in an isolated way, but rather as embodied, then when looking at a disease in the brain that effects the body, the disease can be better understood through a deeper research of the mind and body connection that has been developed through dance.
Balance – Movement ‘in balance’ refers to a state of equilibrium, or an equal distribution of weight. The accomplishment of balance, whether physically or emotionally, is a state often pursued by many members of society. Achieving movement in balance when one is confronted by a movement disorder becomes increasingly challenging, and is often measured by doctors as an assessment for the level of a disease. Balance between the structural and emotional is often seen as an essence of beauty, yet many themes in contemporary dance work with off-balance and chaotic movements. How can balance be improved through dynamic movement and through reflection on how we measure and value something that is ‘in balance’?
If we do not move randomly, then somehow an intention is involved. Does this intention precede the movement? Or do we only know afterwards what we actually intended? Can we measure intentions? Is there a definable starting point of an intention? Can we identify the neuronal correlates? For dancers, reflection of intentions is essential due to their need to develop and control their movements and to select and begin their movements while focusing on a certain goal. Dancers also speak about their intentions in order to find a language to communicate about them. For Parkinson’s, the connection between intention and a desired movement is deeply disturbed. Since dancers are experts at listening to and analyzing their intentions, the tools they have developed can greatly enhance the movements and research of diseases which cause movement disorders.
For people with Parkinson’s, they alone have to carry the disease in their bodies and the disease manifests differently from person to person, yet most of the characteristics of the disease effects how they interact with others. If their facial muscles are effected, they can no longer communicate their emotions in a way that others are used to reading them. If their gate is effected, they can give the impression that they are drunk. Their physical appearance challenges the habitual perception of others and these very misperceptions of others can cause additional pain on top of the already existing symptoms. In dance, the sophisticated development of non-verbal physical languages aspire to develop a communication with the public. If the Parkinson’s disease damages the interactions with others, can the tools of physical communication developed in dance improve the ability of people with Parkinson’s to interact with others? Can a desired movement be improved or better accomplished when instigated through an agency of communication? Is there a difference in the success of a movement when the thought is to communicate rather than to accomplish a certain movement task?
During our lives, we change who we are, yet we stay the same person. The Parkinson’s disease is an unchosen alteration of identity where the body begins to become the foreign enemy. One’s self perception splits between ‘before’ and ‘after’ and movements and impulses become harder and harder to execute and control. As physical attributes shrink from the disease (walking, the voice, handwriting), so do the physical attributes one used to identify with as parts of their personality and understanding of oneself. People with Parkinson’s often describe their ‘true selves’ being caught in a cage, yet when they dance, they can feel closer to their previously understood self. Through artistic creation and performance, dancers search for, embody and transform themselves through different identities based on an active physical research. They question what it means to perform an identity while searching for where identify lies in the body. If identity is informed through our movements, then through a physical research using the tools developed in various forms of contemporary dance, one can observe and examine their own identity via new pathways of movement and a discovery of potential borders and better understand the physical elements which inform our identities.
The concept of freedom needs to be understood through an opposition. Freedom, in relationship to the body, exists as a counterpoint to the body or mind being blocked or restricted. Many people with Parkinson’s describe dancing as a freedom from the disease. For others, movement can offer a pathway to a freedom of thought, a dislodging of preconceptions or fixed ideas. If quality of life is the aim of scientific research for the treatment of the Parkinson’s disease, then what can we learn from dancing to better understand the aims of the research?