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Jordan K. Turgeon / MEDILL

Parkinson's disease patients get moving in a specialized dance class, held Mondays and Thursdays at the Drucker Center in Chicago.

Parkinson’s disease patients dance their way to improved health

by Jordan K. Turgeon
May 11, 2010

As Chicagoan Richard Younker, 70, starts to belt a familiar tune, the pianist joins with cheerful accompaniment. Vanya Wang, 72, breaks in with a few lines of “Oh! Susanna.”

Younker and Wang are taking a short break from their twice-weekly dance class for Parkinson’s disease patients, held Mondays and Thursdays at Chicago’s Drucker Center. Both were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease about three years ago.

Their instructor, dance and movement sciences expert Citlali Lopez-Ortiz, volunteers her time, as does the assistant and live pianist, to help Parkinson’s disease patients maintain or improve their mobility and balance. The dance program began in November 2009 at the request of physicians from the Northwestern Faculty Foundation and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Lopez-Ortiz said.

“There is a whole set of literature that speaks to the importance of rhythmic, auditory and visual stimulation to improve motor coordination or rhythmic motor patterns in Parkinson’s disease,” Lopez-Ortiz said. “So here, we have the music – that type of auditory stimulation – and we try to design motions that encourage rhythmic patterns and motor control.”

And the participants said the dance classes are working. Wang said her husband has commented on her improvement.

“We have wonderful role models to follow,” Wang said of Lopez-Ortiz and her assistant, Jamila Kekulah Kinney. “They’re so agile and they move with such grace.”

Individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease who are interested in the dance class can contact Lopez-Ortiz at or by phone at (312) 238 – 4401 for more information.

“I don’t know of another program that has all of these components in the city -- nor in the country -- with physicians’ involvement, and scientists’ involvement, and certified movement therapists involved,” Lopez-Ortiz said.