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Dance exercise and seminar for the Parkinsons group in Whangarei

''Would you care to dance'' has almost been the theme of this year's Parkinson's Awareness Week in Whangārei.

While the week has seen some serious seminars and revisiting downbeat aspects of the disease, whose ''owners'' sometimes refer to themselves as ''Parkies'', the focus was mostly upbeat, according to Peter Garelja, president of the Northland Parkinson's Action Group (NPAG).

Upbeat is also the name of a Parkinson's New Zealand national branch for sufferers on the younger side or who feel they still have plenty of get up and go.

It is well recognised that ''get up and go'' slows down the progress of the disease, Garelja said — hence the strong focus on exercise and fitness in managing the illness.


This week Rachel Horwell, a Wellington-based physiotherapist and dance instructor trained in the acclaimed United States "Dancing for Parkinson's" programme, introduced the activity to NPAG.

Accompanied by a range of music, including Queen's We Will Rock You and Patēa Māori Club's Poi E, about 30 people took to the dance floor, with Horwell in front demonstrating the moves.

Those moves mimicked some that might be found in exercise routines, and included repetition and stretching — although with feet stamping, hands slapping knees, wiggling bottoms and swaying hips (where possible).

In between dance routines, Horwell talked about the benefits for the body, the brain and general well-being of dance and music-based activities. Brain scans and other tests on people ''wired up'' while they danced showed '' the lights come on''.

Garelja said NPAG has paid for two Northland instructors, Alyssa Farrand and Elizabeth Statt, to go to Wellington to be trained by Horwell in dance therapy.

''It will become one of the activities we routinely offer,'' Garelja said.

''The spin-offs from dance are many. The research is good as well as the known feel-good factor. There's more humanity about it than mere exercising and there is plenty of research to show that exercise and dance slow down Parkinson's.''

As well as other events during Parkinson's Awareness Week and its lead-up, last night NPAG held a public meeting with addresses by two locals with Parkinson's, Garelja and Susie Abraham.

The theme was "Parkinson's: The reset button", about the impact the disease has and the ways people can positively adapt their lives to the arrival and ongoing presence of Parkinson's.

''We need people to see it as not a death sentence, but a life sentence,'' Garelja said.