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Thu November 7, 2013
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Dancing with Parkinson's bridges generations in Shreveport

People with Parkinson’s disease have a new outlet in Shreveport for coping with the degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. The Dancing with Parkinson’s class is a partnership between Centenary College and LSU Health Shreveport’s Parkinson’s Disease Resource.

Shreveport modern dancer Renee Smith Cheveallier leads the Dancing with Parkinson's class at Centenary College.
Shreveport modern dancer Renee Smith Cheveallier leads the Dancing with Parkinson's class at Centenary College.
Credit Kate Archer Kent

Centenary students in the neurological disorders class take to the dance floor alongside a person with Parkinson’s. The students are able to put a face to the disorder, according to Greg Butcher, an associate professor of neuroscience.

"It’s one thing to hear the symptoms of a condition. I can describe it in great detail. But, unless they actually can see it firsthand, many of them aren’t able to latch on to what this condition does," Butcher said, following the one-hour dance class comprised of dozens of Centenary students, Parkinson's sufferers and their caregivers. "After each of the dance sessions the students observe, we go back to the class and talk about some of the things they notice.”

The class is modeled after the Mark Morris Dance Group in Brooklyn, N.Y. The idea is that professionally trained dancers empower people with Parkinson’s to explore movement and music in ways that are stimulating and creative. Paula Houston, Parkinson’s resource coordinator at LSU Health Shreveport, was moved when she observed the class in another city.

“Shreveport has a very developed art community, and I felt like this was something that would catch on in Shreveport," Houston said, whose father suffered from Parkinson's. "I just had this dream that someday we could have it here, and that was three years ago that we started working on how to do this.”

Houston and Shreveport modern dancer Renee Smith Cheveallier went to New York for training. The class is open to anyone with Parkinson’s and their caregivers. It meets the first Wednesday of the month at Centenary’s Kilpatrick Auditorium at 11 a.m. Beginning Jan. 8, it will meet weekly. Cheveallier is thrilled.

“This is not about exercise. It’s about a living art form, which is dance, which is an expressive form of communication. That is what I’m most excited about," Cheveallier said.