A local dance teacher from Somerset West is making her international mark by inspiring those with Parkinson’s Disease. 

An active teacher in ballet and tap dance, Julie Symmonds, was introduced to the international Dance for Parkinson’s Disease (PD) Programme by a friend and was immediately touched by it. 

“I immediately started with arrangements to start the training, and by October 2015, I was in New York learning from the pioneer himself, David Levanthal,” says Symmonds. 

The dance programme is specifically designed for people with PD to take more control of their body, as the disease attacks the nervous system, causing tremors, muscular rigidity and slow, imprecise movements. The programme allows muscles to regain flexibility, slows down tremors and help dancers to regain morecontrol over their bodies again. 

“Teaching Dance for PD has changed my whole life,” says Symmonds, who finds its impact on her clients nothing short of remarkable, something that keeps her in awe.

 “To witness the change in thedancers and how they move is unbelievable,” she says.“One of my dancers, Hans Rogotzki, danced seated for six months in my class, only recently being able to get up and dance, standing on his own two feet again.

”The programme gives members a sense of bodily empowerment. “Our motto in class is to ‘Walk with grace’,” Symmonds says. She follows the programme very strictly, offering dance movement and exercises from the popular genres of tap, ballet, modern and music theatre.“There are dancers in my class who have never danced before and are between 70 and 80 years old,” Symmonds points out. 

In an email to DistrictMail, Leventhal said training Julie and working with her was an immense pleasure. “She approached the trainingwith curiosity, passion and sensitivity,” he said. “She has invested her energies in sharing the joys and benefits of dance with people living with PD in South Africa.” 

The programme pioneer adds that, in every aspect, Symmonds is a pioneer in bringing the dance programme to South Africa. He says: “As long as there isinterest and support from the medical community, we will remain committed to supporting the development of dance of PD in South Africa.”One of Symmonds’ dancers, Deidre Visser, comes all the way from Claremont in Cape Town’s southern suburbs to attend her classes. She says she is committed to expanding the programme to greater Cape Town.

“We will start by collaborating with support groups in Cape Town and hopefully expand by word of mouth,” she says. “I love her classes. The musicuplifts you and the classes delayyour body from the stiffness PD brings to your body.”

Visser especially loves her instructor’s vibrant personality, which has a motivating effect. She says: “After the class wesit down and talk to each other about each other’s challenges. We do not just stop and go home. It helps to chat and sit with others.