Canberra dancer heads overseas to help people with Parkinson's
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Canberra dancer heads overseas to help people with Parkinson's

Canberra dancer Philip Piggin is heading overseas to train with the company that spearheaded the use of dance to help relieve the symptoms of Parkinson's disease in the hope of improving and expanding programs throughout Australia.

Piggin, who coordinates classes at Belconnen Arts Centre, will become only the second Australian with the qualification as part of a two and a half month trip to the United States and Britain .

Philip Piggin has received a Churchill Fellowship and is  heading overseas to further develop his skills in teaching dance to people with Parkinson's disease.

Philip Piggin has received a Churchill Fellowship and is heading overseas to further develop his skills in teaching dance to people with Parkinson's disease.

Photo: Graham Tidy

He will spend a month training with Brooklyn's Mark Morris Dance Group, the company that started the "Dance for PD" program more than a decade ago, thanks to a Churchill Fellowship.

"The program originated there about 12 years ago when a community group for people with the condition next door approached the company to deliver a weekly exercise," he said.

Chris Creswell, left, joins in the Parkinson's Dance Group, at the Belconnen Art's Centre.

Chris Creswell, left, joins in the Parkinson's Dance Group, at the Belconnen Art's Centre.

Photo: Jamila Toderas
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"While I'm there I'll be undertaking a training program to become certified for the delivery of training programs back here in Canberra and around the country as required."

He said the benefits of dance for people with the condition extended beyond just the physical.

"There's various forms of treatment and medication that can slow down the symptoms or manage some of the symptoms but at the moment there's no known cure," he said.

"These dance movements, these gentle exercise programs can have quite significant effects on people's physicality, their mobility, their flexibility, their strength and co-ordination.

"As the impact of the condition grows people can increasingly lack the confidence to be out in social situations and can become quite isolated.

"I think what's really important is the whole dance exercise program also provides a safe and happy environment for people to come together. Everyone supports each other and understands each other."

Canberra's dance classes began at Belconnen Arts Centre in 2013 after Piggin undertook initial training in Sydney. The program has since extended to Tuggeranong Arts Centre.

Piggin said the programs were artistic rather than medical: "it's treating these people as dancers, not as patients".

His further studies will enable him to equip other dance teachers in Canberra and interstate with the skills to co-ordinate and further programs.

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Back home, the feedback from dance participants has been resoundingly positive.

"Interestingly, a few people who have left Canberra and are no longer able to access the program have come back every now and then but are saying they're aware their movement and physicality has started to decline without this regular program," he said.

"I'm certainly seeing a greater confidence and movement."