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changing lives / dance classes for people with parkinson's disease and the elderly community in italy

By Roberto Casarotto

Whom do we work for? Whom do we work with? In Bassano del Grappa, Italy, these two questions have been very present and relevant in the process of articulating ideas and projects about dance. As the director of the dance projects at Comune di Bassano del Grappa, I have become increasingly aware of our responsibility to connect what we propose, initiate, research and create to our community, and to the specific social, cultural, political, artistic contexts we live in. I have also become more aware of the power dance projects can bring to society and of their potential value for society.

Through the Act Your Age project contemporary dance became more known, accessible, available, appreciated and in demand in the city of Bassano. The project invited inhabitants to be directly involved in performances and workshops. Dance came to inhabit new spaces and locations in the city where it had never been seen before, dialogues between generations were initiated and facilitated, and the performances, workshops and encounters reached new audiences by breaking the dominant presumptions that are often confined in cultural and conceptual ghettos.

I want to highlight one project that became important to me, to the Act Your Age project and to the city of Bassano. A project that started with an encounter in Maastricht, the Netherlands, during the Dutch Dance Festival (Nederlandse Dansdagen). There I met Marc Vlemmix and Andrew Greenwood, founders of Dance for Health, an organization offering dance classes to people with physical diseases like Parkinson's and their partners. They inspired me to initiate dance classes for people with Parkinson’s disease in Bassano del Grappa as well.

Worldwide there is a growing interest among people living with Parkinson’s in attending dance classes. Alongside there have been a small, but growing number of research studies examining the benefit of dancing for people with Parkinson’s. The effects of engaging in a physical art practice, as distinct from a physical exercise class, have demonstrated that dance has the potential to offer an increased quality of life and self-efficacy. Dancers and choreographers are experts at controlling movement, at the observation of the inner dimension of movement, at the fragmentation of movement sequences and at the development of organic movement phrases. They can contribute to the research of movement disorders and enter lively dialogues with people with Parkinson’s, bringing art and the practice of art into their lives.

The particular approach developed by Marc, Andrew and their team in The Netherlands inspired the Municipality of Bassano of engaging in a pilot involving the Hospital of Bassano, professional dance teachers, people with Parkinson’s disease and members of the city's elderly community. A training program for dance teachers in Italy and the Netherlands was developed, and from October 2013, Comune di Bassano del Grappa started offering dance classes twice a week. The classes take place in the inspiring space of partner Museo Civico, the city's home of the arts and can be attended for free. Every month they are led by a different teacher. They attract a broad range of participants from different age groups, with different experiences. Some suffer from Parkinson’s, some do not, some are professional dancers, while others are dancing for the first time in their lives. Nearly 70 people attend the classes on a regular basis and define themselves as dancers. They are the best ambassadors for dance in society.

The tool of dance is the body, and as an art form, dance requires a body to be practiced. The specific approach developed by Dance for Health focuses on the body's potential, rather than on the limitations generated by age or disease. This approach stimulates a flow that takes people to a place where they can forget about their limits and discover the joy of the possibilities they still have. A flow that reaches beyond the dance class into the daily life of the participants and teachers, bringing them freedom. Freedom to forget about the disease, freedom to create, and freedom to search for a new definition of beauty, beyond ages and illnesses.
‘During journey I found clear answers to some of my questions, ideas and feelings related to life, aging and illness. Dance allows me to see and feel beauty in every body.’ Cristina Bacilleri Pulga - Parkinson’s dance teacher

Some of the participants with Parkinson’s used to lead isolated lives, afraid to expose themselves in public and to interact with others. Now, they have found a place and time to reconnect with their body, with their life and with others.
‘When you dance, you quickly discover a universe inside and outside of you. It allows you to connect with space and with others in a natural and harmonic way. Dance is an antidepressant, a tonic, natural and creative physiotherapy.’ Eva Boarotto - dancer with Parkinson’s
Very quickly, the initiative was co-owned by the Municipality of Bassano, its community and all the participants. A shared sense of responsibility to maintain the Parkinson’s dance classes arose, as well as a strong sense of artistic and social integrity.
Through projects like Act Your Age and Dance for Health, dance is pioneering new ways to connect with society by creating active participation, inclusion and involvement. Now, in Bassano del Grappa we can say: dance can change people’s life.


Roberto Casarotto (1969, Italy) is artistic director at Opera Estate Festival Veneto and director of the dance projects at Comune di Bassano del Grappa. As artistic project leader of Act Your Age Italy he participated in all Act Your Age events.