Support groups have a strong presence at the Unity Walk and Brooklyn Parkinson Group (BPG) leads the way. They have grown in size, spirit and offerings and convey the support that is derived from their group. Not all support groups offer the same breadth of classes but the sense of connection and community is available in all of them. We’ve invited Leonore Gordon, Team Captain of the Brooklyn Parkinson Group’s team at the Walk to share her experience of BPG.
PUW Event Director
The actual home of Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group (BPG) has been, since 2001, in downtown Brooklyn, in a building owned by the world-renowned dancer/choreographer Mark Morris, who heads his own dance company and public dance-school, located up the block from the famed Brooklyn Academy of Music. However, the whole notion of people with Parkinson’s benefitting from dance was the brain-child of Olie Westheimer, another Brooklyn resident who brought the idea to Mark Morris in 2001. Shortly thereafter, Dance for PD® was launched as a non-profit collaboration between the Mark Morris Dance Group and BPG.
Mark Morris generously offered space for the Brooklyn Parkinson’s community to house our dance classes and, over time, our singing and movement classes, and monthly support groups for People with Parkinson’s (PWP) and their caregivers. Morris threw in the bonus of providing two of his top dancers as our dance teachers, David Leventhal and John Hegginbotham, joined for many years by Misty Owens, a gifted tap dancer and dance teacher. The icing on the cake was the added gift of a live pianist/composer of exceptional talent, William Wade, who played (and still plays) piano during the dance classes, who went on to teach and lead the PD singing group.
It wasn’t long before the popular Friday “Movement Lab” was added to the line-up, led by another celebrated BPG star, professional dancer and choreographer Pamela Quinn, who lives with PD herself. Quinn now also leads classes in Manhattan, and travels across the globe, teaching her techniques. (link to Pamelaquinn.net)
Birthed at the start of the 21st century, this new organism, “Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group” became a life-raft not only for me, but for dozens of others, (today numbering in the hundreds) some arriving from New Jersey, Long Island and the four other boroughs. I began to gratefully partake in the free weekly classes for PD folks and care-partners in dance, movement and singing in 2003, gradually rescheduling my hours as a family therapist and Resident Poet in the NYC public schools so I could attend. Participation slowly became a necessity, motivating me (and countless others) out of our houses and into the welcome company of peers struggling to adjust to living with Parkinson’s.
By 2008, my own progressing symptoms forced me (not unlike innumerable compatriots) to reluctantly retire from my two careers. By then, fortunately for me and about 15 others, a new partnership had recently emerged between BPG and Long Island University, initiated by a lawyer living with PD. LIU was just a few blocks away, and we jumped at the chance to attend twice-weekly aerobic and weight-training exercise classes.
Suddenly, nearly every weekday, classes had become available, strengthening our bodies, our voices and our spirits. Of equal value, this daily-ness and continuity allowed many of us to become a community, and a family. Traveling between boroughs, we began to share meals, birthday celebrations, attend theater together, sign up for boat rides to see fall foliage, to visit one another in hospitals, and sadly, to jointly attend way too many funerals.
In 2011, one of our dance teachers, David Leventhal, once a lead dancer with a soaring career in the Mark Morris Dance Group, astonished us all by leaving the dance group in order to become director of “Dance for PD.” He began to train interested dancers to initiate new Dance for PD classes across the US and eventually, throughout the world. His program and techniques are being taught in over 100 communities worldwide.
In 2013, after being filmed for a year by documentary filmmaker Dave Iverson (who also lives with Parkinson’s) and videographer Eddie Maritz, a beautiful hour-long film, “Capturing Grace”, was released. The film followed our dance community for over a year as we prepared for a final professional dance performance in 2012, and the film won Audience Favorite awards at film festivals across the US, eventually appearing on PBS. “Capturing Grace” has inspired viewers with Parkinson’s world-wide to dance and to believe in their abilities to feel graceful again. capturinggracefilm.com
BPG and Mark Morris Dance Company are still partnering to offer dance and singing classes in all five boroughs, as well as in New Jersey. Thus explains the fierce loyalty of the Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group. At the end of the day, we all share a common bond of one extraordinary, creative, patient-based Parkinson’s community in the greater New York City area.
Team Captain, Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group & Friends