The Neurodance

By April 7, 2015Fly News

For 20 years of her life, Pamela Quinn danced professionally.

Then she found out she had early onset Parkinson’s disease.

“Diagnosis with this disease is hard for anyone, but particularly hard for a dancer,” Pamela said. “When your identity is all connected to movement and you have a serious movement disorder, you also have a profound identity crisis. What will I do? Who am I going to become?”

One of Pamela’s first reactions to her diagnosis was to stop dancing. Why pursue dance if it held no future for her? So she stopped taking dance classes, performing and choreographing.

But eventually, Pamela discovered that dance was the very thing that could save her. Dance offered her ideas about movement strategies to help her with her Parkinson’s, and she could still move enough to create and perform. After taking a multi-year hiatus from dance, she found a meaningful way to return to the activities that meant so much to her.

Fly on the Wall learned all about Pamela’s story from filming one of her recent pieces called “Neurodance.” It exhibits a very different attitude toward her Parkinson’s from the one she had in the beginning. Neurodance, an upbeat, playful dance, is actually a representation of a neurology exam set to music in a rhythmic and surprising way.

Pamela chose to have Fly on the Wall film a video of her Neurodance in order to travel with it and share it with those who are familiar with the idiosyncratic vocabulary of Parkinson’s, including neurologists and patients. She hopes that the people she has contact with during teaching and speaking engagements can take a moment to enjoy her creative take on the neurology exam, which is usually a more serious subject for them.

Since her return to dance, Pamela has returned to choreographing and has also continued to build her understanding of how the body works, particularly in cases of people with Parkinson’s. Today, she teaches a class sponsored by †he Brooklyn Parkinson Group called PD Movement Lab—a forum to experiment with physical approaches to Parkinson’s disease. The class is dance-based, but also uses a variety of props (ropes, balls, balloons, blankets, etc.), anything that she can use to help students move better. Pamela also works with individual clients and teaches classes in Manhattan at the JCC’s Edmond J. Safra Parkinson’s program on the Upper West Side.

For Pamela, it’s all about giving people the tools to manage what they have. “I can’t turn the clock backwards, but I can give them strategies for moving,” she explained to Fly on the Wall. These strategies are based on her own experience. “I’ve been able to take my past and bring it into my present.”

At the end of the day, Pamela realizes that feelings of self-worth and energy—which Parkinson’s so easily jeopardizes—come from helping others. In this spirit, she runs Movement Lab and continues to encourage her students to live as fully as possible in spite of their disease. “If you take some of the focus away from the self, the ‘poor me’ attitude, and say, how can I use this disease to better myself, to better mankind, to connect with other people, to help other people—that’s going to give you life.”