Creative Calgary Congress — Exploring ways that the arts and artists can play a leadership role in making Calgary a more curious, compassionate and creative place for all citizens.

Dancing Parkinson’s YYC

The most ambitious goal of this program is to change medical practice…


Dancing Parkinson’s YYC performs at the Creative Calgary Congress | Photo: Calgary Arts Development

Dancing Parkinson’s YYC gifted participants at the Creative Calgary Congress with a demonstration of a typical class. Based on feedback, the Dancing Parkinson’s YYC demonstration was one of the most impactful presentations of the day.

Anne Flynn, Professor Emerita (Dance) in the Faculty of Kinesiology, and Member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, got the program started in 2013. She was on hand to introduce the demonstration to us at the congress.


The program started in January 2013 and meets weekly for about 38 weeks a year. It has been a partnership with numerous organizations and individuals including myself (Flynn), DJD, a federal research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC), the Rozsa Foundation, Parkinson Alberta, the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, the Faculty of Kinesiology at U of C and individual donors.

Some of the dancers you will see today started with the program in 2013. The most ambitious goal of the program is to change medical practice, so that when people find out they have a degenerative movement disorder they get a prescription for dance classes and other movement classes in addition to medication.


I want to share a short and simple story of how this program got off the ground. It was a grassroots effort and it shows that good things can get created from nothing when people step up and say yes.


Vicki Adams Willis leads the demonstration | Photo: Calgary Arts Development

The Players

Harvey Weingarten — I got an email from former U of C President Harvey Weingarten saying — you really should meet Dr. Bin Hu in the faculty of Medicine. He’s a neuroscientist who does a lot of work with older people.

Bin and I never did actually manage to connect because he was on sabbatical and I was on sabbatical. This was in 2010 that I got this email. Bin and I never connected.

Bailey Robinson — my daughter Flynn’s best friend. This is 2011. Bailey’s grandmother has just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and the girls decide that they should do a science fair project on Parkinson’s Disease. They’re talking to me and I say: “Oh, I know of this researcher Bin Hu. I think he does Parkinson’s research. Maybe you could do something about music and movement and I could connect you with Bin and one of his research assistants,” which is what happened. So, Bailey and Flynn get involved and they actually win a gold medal at the science fair in Grade 8 for their Parkinson’s Project. I start helping them do a little bit of research about the dance component and I come across the Mark Morris Dance Company, which has the first and biggest Parkinson’s Dance Project in the world. The Mark Morris Dance Centre happens to be in walking distance to my parents’ house in Brooklyn. When I contact them to ask about attending one of their training sessions, they say to me: “Oh isn’t that interesting, I see you’re from Calgary. Bin Hu is our advisor!”

Vicki Adams Willis — Finally, in 2012, I approach Vicki because it was clear to me that DJD needed to be the home of the Parkinson’s project. I had a dance education background so I knew what I wanted to do with the curriculum. But I knew that DJD was the right place for this program to live because of the way that they work, because of the community school they had and because of the style of movement that they actually specialize in. So, Vicki got involved.

Bin Hu — I finally went back to Bin Hu, and said: “Okay, I want to start a program here. You’re an advisor to Mark Morris Company, Calgary is a big enough city to have a Dancing Parkinson’s Program. Let’s go.” He said: “Fine, here’s my undergraduate neuroscience research assistant Nicole Meyer. I think my research group should have its Christmas party at Decidedly Jazz. Why don’t you organize that with Nicole?” We said no problem. Brought all of Bin’s research participants to the old DJD studios, had a Christmas party. The company did a demonstration, Vicki and I talked about a dance class that we would like to offer and by the end of the day we had about 30 people on a list who were coming for a dance class in January. This is the beginning of December.


Illustration: Sam Hester

The Chairs

DJD has no chairs.

Class is starting on Wednesday. On the Monday night I am in the Dino Gym in NE Calgary while my daughter is practicing volleyball. I’m thinking where am I going to get chairs for Wednesday? I don’t have chairs. I look across the room. Doug Klassen, parent of another volleyball player is standing in a circle talking. I think: Doug is the Pastor of Foothills Mennonite Church — he’ll have chairs!

I approached him and I say: “I need chairs, I need 30 chairs for Wednesday.” On Tuesday at 9:00am I took my husband’s Toyota Tundra to Foothills Mennonite Church. Doug and his assistant loaded up the vehicle with the 30 chairs. I went down to DJD’s parking lot and parked in the back lot. The company took a break. They formed a chain from the first floor up to the studios and we hauled 30 chairs up there.

At the same time, I called Long and McQuade and said we need a keyboard because we have to have live music. They said: “No problem you can have a keyboard. We’ll rent it to you for one week and you can keep it for as long as you want.”

This shows how good things can happen from nothing when people say YES. This connects to Jim Dewald’s notion of perseverance and Jim Button’s notion of not just talking about things but doing them — activation.

Now you will get to see the students, the chairs, the class.



Dancing Parkinson’s YYC

Using live musical accompaniment, the program focuses on rhythm, body awareness, motor learning, and socializing.

Dancing Parkinson’s YYC is a partnership between DJD, Calgary Parkinson’s Research Initiative, the Rozsa Foundation, the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Kinesiology and the Hotchkiss Brain Institute.


About the Creative Calgary Congress

Renamed the Creative Calgary Congress in 2014, it returned on November 22, 2016 as a place to share ideas and explore ways that the arts and artists can play a leadership role in making Calgary a more curious, compassionate and creative place for all citizens.

Learn more about the day and add your voice

Creative Calgary Congress

Sharing ideas and exploring ways that the arts and artists can play a leadership role in making Calgary a more curious, compassionate and creative place for all citizens.

Calgary Arts Development

Written by

As the city’s designated arts development authority, Calgary Arts Development supports and strengthens the arts to benefit all Calgarians.

Creative Calgary Congress

Sharing ideas and exploring ways that the arts and artists can play a leadership role in making Calgary a more curious, compassionate and creative place for all citizens.

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