By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Dance class helps people with Parkinson's

Photo by David Yakamoto/Ventura County Star: Dennis Conte (left), co-founder and artistic director of The Energy of Dance, instructs Jerry Koenig, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, in a walking dance exercise next to Claudia Bourgeois during an Argentine tango dance lesson at Dance 4 Wellness.

Jerry Koenig was running marathons and racing horses 100 miles across the Sierra before he was stricken with Parkinson’s disease later in life.

“That’s what I went from ... to zero,” said Koenig, 71, of Simi Valley. “My memory is going, along with everything else. There’s a lot of things Parkinson’s does to you.”

Hoping to hone his balance, Koenig recently participated in a free Argentine tango dance class at Dance 4 Wellness in Westlake Village, sponsored by The Energy of Dance, a nonprofit organization.

“It was great,” Koenig said of the class that involved performing tango moves while sitting in a chair, followed by standing dance steps to music.

As far as the benefits he hopes to reap, Koenig said he’s not sure.

“I will give it a couple of shots and see how it works out,” he said. “I like the music.”

Koenig was the first area resident to participate in the dance class designed for those with Parkinson’s disease.

The free classes take place from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays at Dance 4 Wellness in Thousand Oaks near Westlake Village.

“Once you start to get the benefits of doing this, you want to keep going with it, just like any good exercise program,” said Maria Durant, founder, CEO and director of Dance 4 Wellness.

The volunteer effort is led by Dennis Cante and Jane Caddell, dance instructors and co-founders of The Energy of Dance.

“Argentine tango has a lot of technique when it comes to the spine, posture, body precision and balance,” Cante said. “We’re trying to modify that into Parkinson’s disease because they have problems with walking, balance and posture.”

People with Parkinson’s have symptoms like tremors, Caddell said.

“They also will have shortened gait, shuffling ... and they are at greater risk for falls because their gait and stride is affected,” she said. “Tango has such fundamental technique. It’s really a walking dance.”

It’s not physical therapy, Cante said.

“It’s a dance class. We provide dance exercise and take the brain into dance mode,” Cante said. “I’m not a doctor; I’m a dance instructor. I hope to bring some happiness to them through the dance.”

Koenig’s lesson began with sitting chair exercises that involved drawing a circle clockwise with his big toe, one foot at a time. Additional exercises included snapping his fingers and picking and throwing a pretend apple, one hand at a time, with all five fingers.

His standing exercises to music, including to the song “La Capilla Blanca,” involved walking forward, one foot at a time, to the beat.

To ensure he kept his balance while standing, Koenig was assisted by volunteers Kelly Hall, of Simi Valley, and Claudia Bourgeois, of Thousand Oaks.

“My bachelor’s is in speech and language pathology, so I know about Parkinson’s just from that standpoint,” said Hall, an instructor at Dance 4 Wellness.

“I’ve looked into a lot of the research for Argentine tango specifically with Parkinson’s,” she said. “It’s really powerful to see how dance can help everyone in every aspect of life.”

2013 Ventura County Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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