Today’s All Things Considered on NPR had a wonderful story by Jacki Lyden on Parkinson’s and dance. Each week, the Mark Morris dance company holds a class for people suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

One thing that I learned from the story is that Parkinson’s affects one’s ability to initiate voluntary movement; while involuntary movement is largely unaffected. For example, you would be able to catch a ball because it is a reflexive action, but you might not be able to initiate the movement of your arm to throw it back.

Mark Morris thinks that dance tricks the mind and body into moving, as the repetitive movements in dance can eventually become involuntary, as are one’s mindless reactions to the beat of a familiar song, or copying the movement of an instructor or classmate. Although there is not any definitive scientific research yet to link dance to improvement in Parkinson’s symptoms, the anecdotal results of the class are so strong that Mark Morris was invited to speak at a neuroscientists’ convention.

You can listen to this excellent story (which has a lovely background audio of the class), read a summary, and see photos from the class here.