'It's an absolute joy': Dance classes for Parkinson's sufferers create smiles all round

Tom Leung’s face lights up as he takes his wife Kathy for a spin around the dance floor.

Today is their 49th wedding anniversary and their friendship is plain to see as The Seekers’ song, I’ll Never Find Another You, lifts the mood in the community hall at Rozelle, in Sydney’s inner west.

In their youth, the couple loved ballroom dancing, but Parkinson’s Disease is slowly robbing Tom of his mobility.

A woman and a man A woman and a man
‘It helps a lot’: Tom Leung, who is suffering from Parkinson’s, gets benefit out of the dance classes.(ABC News: Nicole Chettle)

Once again, dance is putting a smile on Tom’s face as the couple takes part in Dance for Parkinson’s, a not-for-profit group designed to help people struggling with the condition.

“It’s a lot of fun. You listen to the music and the body just moves,” Mr Leung said.

Mrs Leung said the classes provide welcome relief for carers, plus a renewed sense of hope.

“It helps a lot. It gives them the incentive to live a little bit longer,” she said.

A woman demonstrates a hand gestureA woman demonstrates a hand gesture
‘It’s soul food’: Former professional dancer Catherine Goss describes the classes as ‘an absolute joy’.(ABC News: Nicole Chettle)

Dance teacher Catherine Goss said the 30 classes that take place across Australia help improve motor skills, like walking and fine hand movements.

“It’s a joy. It’s an absolute joy to be here and I say that it’s as much soul food for me as it is for the participants,” said Ms Goss, a former professional dancer who performed with the Sydney Dance Company and the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

Dancing at their own pace

A group of people raise their armsA group of people raise their arms
A group takes part in some stretching to help with movement.(ABC News: Nicole Chettle)

Some class participants struggle to stand or walk, and that is okay.

“If they just sit and listen to the music on that particular day, then that’s good,” Ms Goss said.

“Just to be out of the house and joining in the class I think is wonderful for them.”

Ms Goss said she had observed “love in the room” as well as a lot of feeling.

“Having fun, sometimes crying, always laughing but all emotions under the sun,” she said.

A man holds hands with a womanA man holds hands with a woman
Bruce May dances, even though he sometimes struggles to stand or walk.(ABC News: Nicole Chettle)

Men are among the most enthusiastic students.

“A lot of them have never danced before, so they walk in thinking ‘What’s this going to be like?’ and they’re hooked,” Ms Goss said.

“They say it improves their confidence, their coordination, their gait, things like that. They feel like they can walk better.”

Finding freedom in movement

A woman dancesA woman dances
Christine Clark says the dance classes have become something very special for her.(ABC News: Nicole Chettle)

Every day 38 Australians are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

It happened to 68-year-old Christine Clark 13 years ago.

Dancing has been a game-changer, a hobby she is keen to share.

“Whatever you do here is fine. You don’t have to be perfect,” she said.

Ms Clark said getting out and meeting people in a similar situation has been “just so precious”.

“It’s something very special.”

Tom and Kathy Leung are trying to make the most of what they have while they can.

I asked Tom what the best thing about his wife is and he laughed saying: “She’s my walking stick.”

Kathy smiled and said: “It’s true.”

The classes help improve motor skills, like walking and fine hand movements.(ABC News: Nicolle Chettle)

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