Robert Shaw couldn’t lift himself out of a chair when he took his first movement class for people with Parkinson’s disease.
Just over a month later he was able to stand up and participate in other dance routines.
It’s an incredible achievement given the degenerative disease of the nervous system gradually strips people of their ability to move, and eventually speak.
But that’s not the only milestone he’s reached since taking part.
The 78-year-old, who was diagnosed 18 months ago but suspects he has had the disease for several years, has also mastered several routines.
When The Mercury dropped in to see the Maitland Dance for Parkinson’s class last week he was clearly enjoying his new found freedom on the dance floor. He has even re-learned how to tap his toe.
“It’s giving me movements that I don’t normally do, it helps me because I can move things that I couldn’t move before,” Mr Shaw said.
“I can’t tap the toe and then do the heel (in heel and toe) yet because I’ve forgotten how to do it.
You forget how to do certain movements because of the parkinson’s but because you’re doing it here every week you actually remember how to do it.
It’s a similar case for Jenni Langham.
She has been living with the disease for almost a decade and it’s been a rollercoaster; sometimes it is beating her and at other times she has the upper hand.
At the moment she’s winning. She looks forward to the class to work on her movement, and also enjoy a cup of tea with the group afterwards.
“The social interaction is something you miss; it’s an isolating disease and at times you feel alone,” she said.
The music suits the exercise and the beat really helps me. You forget you’ve got parkinson’s disease and you get into the moment and really enjoy yourself. There’s a couple who were unable to stand today and they are doing their own things for their own abilities.
Veteran dance teacher Suzanne Pettit and fellow teacher Mikola Lee started the classes in August. The one hour session focuses on thought, the senses, imagination and movement and is suitable for anyone with the disease.
It’s a spin-off of the program Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group created in America.
The classes are held on Fridays from 10.30am until 11.30am at The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church Hall, Corner George and James St Morpeth.
Cost is $15 for participants and $5 for their carer.
For more information about the classes phone Suzanne Pettit on 0407 108 898.