Dealing with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease can be a daunting challenge to face, since the neurological disease slowly and relentlessly takes away all manner of basic motor skills from those who suffer with it. Yet, for the past eight years, the Pasadena-based Lineage Performing Arts Center has provided an innovative and effective way to manage the disease by hosting movement and memory classes that utilize rhythmic choreography, acting scenes and even fencing to essentially rewire the pathways that their brains use.
This Saturday, the Dance for Joy class participants will show off their skills in “The Lineage Follies,” a variety performance showcase that also will feature some top neurologists discussing the condition and how each performance handles it. According to student Amy Carlson, who has spent the past three years in the Dance for Joy program and helped organize the “Follies,” those insights can provide a greater sense of understanding for participants and audience members alike.
“They’re going to watch people perform routines based on what they do in classes every week, and then at the end of the night they will talk about what they saw,” says Carlson. “These are some of the top neurologists in the world, and everyone’s going to get feedback about why what they’re doing is good. It affects not just the people performing, but people in the audience who are making the connection between the effort people are putting in and what the doctors want to see. It’s very rare to get that kind of feedback.”
Among the physicians attending are Dr. Michele Pagliati, head of the movement disorder clinic at Cedars Sinai; Dr. Giselle Petzinger, a USC neurologist who also works with the Cedars Sinai Medical Group; and Dr. Michael Jakowec, a neurology professor and researcher at USC. Carlson notes that she met the experts by speaking at and attending their conferences, and “they’re basically doing a favor back for me.”
The “Follies” also take place amid a major transitional period for Lineage, as it is temporarily housed at Pasadena’s First United Methodist Church while awaiting a move to its own new facility this summer. According to Dance for Joy Program Manager Brian Elerding, Saturday’s event is a source of great pride for him and all who are associated with the center.
“We have these wonderful students in these creative classes, and they’ve been generating incredible work and it seems like a no-brainer to bring people in to see what they’ve been doing,” says Elerding. “We have four main classes, so you’re going to see a little bit of each class. In acting, you’ll see a couple people with PD doing a scene from ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ and a woman recovering from an aneurysm doing a poem while one of the Lineage company members dances along with her.
“There’s going to be several group dances, one just by the Lineage pro dancers and a couple that are a combination of the pro company with members of the class,” continues Elerding. “There’ll be songs, with people singing with live accompaniment. On top of all that are the world-class neurologists coming to speak about what we do and how creativity and community are really powerful for folks with neurological challenges.”
The classes are supported by grants from the Pasadena Arts League, Pasadena Showcase House for the Arts, the Parkinson’s Foundation and the Tournament of Roses Foundation in addition to individual donors. The acting classes, which thus far have focused on Shakespearean monologues in keeping with Elerding’s other role as the head of the Shakespeare Ensemble Theatre, are held at 11 a.m. Wednesdays, while the “everyday movement” classes are at 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Voice lessons are at 1 p.m. Wednesdays, with dance classes at 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays at 10 a.m., with no registration required. The classes cater to all skill levels, with participants strongly encouraged to dress comfortably so that movement is easy.
“The reason that I wanted to do this show is that first, I wanted everybody in the program to have a goal and give them some excitement,” explains Carlson. “Now we’re preparing for a show, and that’s motivating. Secondly, we wanted to raise funds because a lot of participants are financially strapped due to the fact that drugs and rehab cost money.
“I can’t ask for their money, but I can ask them to perform and sell tickets and get others to contribute money, raising funds without reaching into their own pockets,” she continues. “It’s a way to give back to Lineage in a way that they can. Once I learned about PD and started working on it, it became important to get up off your couch having fun and staying healthy. This is one way to drag people off the couch.”
“The Lineage Follies” takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday at First United Methodist Church, 500 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Tickets are $9. Call (626) 844-7008 or visit lineagepac.org.