They are dancers. It doesn’t matter whether they experience an occasional tremor or are unsteady on their feet. Their teacher cajoles them to step forward ... and reach ... and reminds them to watch their facial expressions.

Dance is an art form after all, and Cynthia Pegado wants her students to remember that when they are in her class, they are creating art.

“This is so much fun. You guys are so good,” the Wheatfield dance instructor told the 11 students who had gathered for her PD Dance class this week at Faith United Church of Christ in Williamsville. 

Pegada, who once danced professionally throughout Europe, stopped dancing for about 20 years as she raised her two sons. After they were grown, she longed to dance once again. But she didn’t want to open a dance studio, like many retired dancers tend to do.

One day, a former dance colleague told her about a dance program for those with Parkinson’s disease. By coincidence, her father had been recently diagnosed with the illness.  Because she also had a background working with people battling arthritis, Pegado felt the stars had aligned for the idea of her teaching dance to those with Parkinson’s disease. She went online to learn more, but felt immediately this was something that she wanted to do. 

The national program, taught by certified professional dancers, is specifically created to address Parkinson’s symptoms.

Pegado believes that PDdance offers patients benefits beyond aerobics. “Exercise is very helpful for people with Parkinson’s, but dance adds an extra component that is very beneficial,” she said. 

“Just the very idea of being able to be nimble physically and mentally with different dance steps and movement, is one key element,” she added, especially when the class works with the tap dance steps. “I teach them one at a time and then we string them together in different combinations,” she explained.

Pegado, who also teaches weekly classes in Kenmore, finds the experience deeply gratifying. “It is a real joy for me to be able to teach this class as a real dance class and coach them how to be artists with their movement.”

The students feel much the same. “This is just so uplifting,” said Marsha Guilluame of Amherst, a retired speech pathologist who has been diagnosed with PD for 10 years. “This frees our bodies.”

“I look forward to it,” added Ozella McTier of Williamsville who was diagnosed in 2006. “I go home and I practice.”  

Bill Marx of Williamsville, said the classes help with his balance, and that Pegado is “so enthusiastic,” while Jim Eagan, 64, believes dancing has helped slow the progression of his disease. Funded by the National Parkinson Foundation of WNY, the classes are free to those diagnosed with the illness, as well as their friends and families. The foundation also offers free singing lessons at the Williamsville church, to fortify the vocal cords and at several other locations, there are boxing classes to increase agility, which are subsidized by the foundation.

“The boxing classes are new on the calendar this month,” said Christopher Jamele, the executive director of the National Parkinson Foundation of Western New York. “It’s amazing what these people with Parksinson’s get out of the boxing training.”

The foundation is also holding an ice skating event for those with Parkinson’s and their families at Canalside in Buffalo. “The whole reason we’re able to do that is because of the ice bikes at Canalside,” Jamele said. The ice skating will take place at 5:30 Feb. 17.

Meanwhile, the dancers are planning for their public debut at the foundation’s annual dinner at 5:30 Feb. 12, at Ilio DiPaolo’s Restaurant in Blasdell. “We hope to show other people who haven’t made it in to the classes ... that dancing is accessible and fun most of all,” Pegado said. “We’re excited to show off what we have been able to do so far.”

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