Last month, attendees at our Life Beyond the Basics conference were treated to a “Parkinson’s Shake Out!” exercise break by our friends at Invertigo Dance Theatre. Since 2011, Invertigo has offered the “Dancing Through Parkinson’s” (DTP) dance program to our community. Each week, classes taught by professional dancers and specifically designed for people with PD – at any stage – are offered in Beverly Hills, Culver City, Tarzana, and Venice. 

Recently we spoke with Linda Berghoff (Invertigo Board Member, DTP teaching artist, and person with PD); Fiona Karlin (DTP Administrator and Invertigo Board Member), and DTP teaching artists Heidi Buehler and Rachel Whiting to learn more about Dancing Through Parkinson’s

Thank you for bringing “Dancing Through Parkinson’s” to our Life Beyond the Basics event last month – it was wonderful to see the entire room dancing together!

Fiona: We really enjoyed it as well! Everyone in the room joined in – it was so inspiring to see that. [read more about this in the current DTP newsletter] 

Invertigo Dance Theatre has presented the DTP program to the Los Angeles PD community for eight years now. Can you tell us about how the program started?

Linda: I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2006. I happened to be in New York in 2009 and I saw an ad in the New York Times for a “Dance for PD” class. I had danced all my life, but when I was diagnosed I thought I’d never dance again, so I was thrilled to see there was a program for those with PD, and I was eager to check it out.

There were about 50 people in the class – all at different stages of the disease. I was struck by the fact that everyone was moving. After the class I mentioned to one of the instructors that there was nothing like this in Los Angeles, and they told me that they were starting a teacher-training program.

Back in Los Angeles, I mentioned to my friend Laura Karlin [Invertigo Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director] that I would like to start a dance program for people with Parkinson’s. She was immediately on board. A short time later a small group of us – Laura, Sofia Klass [Invertigo dancer and DTP co-founder], and I – went to New York to train with the Mark Morris “Dance for PD” program. When we got back home, we started “Dancing Through Parkinson’s.”

Fiona: Our classes are based on the Mark Morris program, but we quickly adapted the program to make it our own. As a new company, we didn’t have the luxury that an institution like Mark Morris has — a large complex and live accompanists for each class. Yet, we bring in many different styles and genres of recorded music into the classes, while having many, special, live guest musical performers, as well.  It adds up to an interesting, fun and diverse class! 

We launched “Dancing Through Parkinson’s” with a series of introductory classes at Cedars-Sinai, with the help of Linda O’Connor [PCLA Board member; formerly social worker for the Department of Neurology at Cedars-Sinai]. We were thrilled to see there was so much interest in the program! Shortly after that we held our first class in Venice.

For those who haven’t yet been to a class, can you tell us a bit about what to expect? 

Rachel: We incorporate a variety of forms and movements that encourage stability and balance and increase flexibility. We invite caregivers and family to attend, and join in the dancing, as well! The classes are designed so that everyone can move at their own pace, and there are always seated modifications available for the movements. 

Linda: The wonderful thing about dance is that it is not merely exercise – it is an art form. We have all heard many stories of people who revisit old creative outlets, or find new ones, after they are diagnosed. This is another creative outlet that can be explored, and it offers movement and exercise, along with community. 

Often people come to their first class nervous because they claim they can’t dance at all, but we stress that no dance experience is necessary. We believe everyone is a dancer – we just ask you to give us a chance to prove that to you! After their first class, people are often amazed at their ability, AND at the joy that dancing brings them.

Dancing Through Parkinson's at PCLA's Life Beyond the Basics event.

Heidi: Linda mentioned the importance of creativity, and I think that’s a big part of what sets this program apart. Music is an essential element of DTP, and the classes have a real collaborative spirit. As just one example: one of our class members is a guitarist. He brought some of his music in and we choreographed a program around it. We’ve also had participants request that we work with specific songs. We’ve used Patsy Kline’s “Crazy” and “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca, as well as other suggestions that came from the class.

It sounds like there is a real sense of community and fellowship in the classes.

Heidi: Yes. I remember one of our dancers in particular who became very isolated after diagnosis, which is such a common reaction. After he got involved in our classes he said they helped him feel a sense of community that he hadn’t felt in years.

Heidi and Rachel, how did you get involved in teaching the Dancing Through Parkinson’s classes?

Heidi: When my mom had cancer, I went with her to some of her pulmonary therapy classes. Exercise was part of her therapy, but she didn’t feel comfortable going to a regular gym – it helped her more to be among others with a shared experience. Through the pulmonary therapy group she found a community. I sat in on one of the DTP classes and I saw the same thing there, and I loved seeing the creativity the dancers bring to the classes. 

Rachel: I was recovering from surgery, and I popped in on the Culver City class. I hadn’t danced in a while, and just being there in that class, experiencing the power of simple movement…all I could think was “I’ve missed this.” Everyone was so welcoming! I remember as we started the class, with everyone seated all together, I thought about how THIS is the essence of dance – the connection to other people, and to our own bodies. And now, as a DTP teaching artist, I am sharing my love of dance through the classes.

Linda:  We have another wonderful teaching artist, Haylee Nichele, who hails from Juilliard, and we are in the process of training more experienced dancers to teach in the program.  

What is next for Dancing Through Parkinson’s, and for Invertigo?

Heidi: Dancing Through Life is a new program we have developed that has been tailored for older adults. It employs some of the same concepts as “Dancing Through PD,” but it is geared toward a wider audience. We designed this program for adults with differing abilities, and it is currently in a pilot program in Inglewood.

Rachel: The Invertigo Dance professional company is going on a national tour in 2020 with Formulae & Fairy Tales, a new full-length piece choreographed by Laura [Laura Karlin, Invertigo’s Artistic Director]. We’re continuing to develop new programs and pieces focused on inclusion and diversity, which has been a part of the vision for Invertigo from the start.

In 2020 Invertigo’s Formulae and Fairy Tales will be at the University of Florida as the first stop of the professional company’s national dance tour. Another venue looking to host is the Wilson Center in North Carolina. Laura Karlin’s master work transforms symbols and stories into worlds of new meanings. The dancers command attention with their virtuosic movements that are birthed from organic emotional spaces. 

The stories don’t stop there: also in the works is a collaboration with Huntington Gardens for their legacy events, scheduled for the spring and fall of 2020. 

On the horizon for 2024, the Dancing Through Parkinson’s program is looking to partner with the LMU Theater department in their proposal for Pacific Standard Time. True events from other-abled bodies as astronauts will be explored. 

Thank you for talking with us today, and for all you are doing for the Los Angeles Parkinson’s community! 

Dancing Through Parkinson’s, created in 2011, is an ongoing community program of Invertigo Dance Theatre. All classes are taught by professional dancers trained in methods specific for PD and offer a fun, supportive environment, fostering physical stability, mental clarity, grace, and creativity. Participants are able to move at their own pace and for standing portions of the class, there is always an equally engaging seated option. DTP classes are a catalyst for joy and community connection. Family and caregivers are encouraged to attend. No dance experience is required. Classes meet weekly in Venice, Culver City, Beverly Hills, Tarzana, and Calabasas. Class cost is by donation; no one is turned away for lack of funds. For class schedules please visit www.invertigodance.org/dtp, or reach out by email or phone: dancepd@invertigodance.org, (424) 229-2141.

Dancing Through Parkinson's at PCLA's Life Beyond the Basics event.
Parkinson’s Community LA
Hand's Solo by Amy Sommer Childress