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Dance Therapy and Neurodegenerative Disease

The possible benefits of dance for patients with neurodegenerative diseases is a growing topic of discussion among neurotherapy experts. While the growing literature surrounding dance therapy is in its infancy, research suggests that dance may offer some benefits applicable to patients with Huntington’s Disease. The American Dance Therapy Association defines Dance Therapy as:

The psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive and physical integration of the individual.

Though the practice varies a great deal, the unifying purpose behind dance therapy is to provide physical and psychological benefits through movement. In other words, the aim of dance therapy is to improve an individual’s physical abilities, positively impact their emotional state, and provide a beneficial social component through dance. In practice, Dance Therapy covers a wide range of activities, from practicing small movements and everyday behaviors with instruction to learning tango or ballet. The benefits can include improvements in balance, strength, and mobility, increased motivation and quality of life, and emotional benefits gleaned from the social nature of most dance therapy practices.

Dance therapy (DT) is currently practiced in a wide variety of contexts: medical settings, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, and other health promotion programs. The American Dance Therapy Association considers DT to be helpful for developmental, medical, social, physical, and psychological challenges.

In the field of neurodegenerative diseases, DT has mainly been studied in the context of Parkinson’s Disease. Research suggests that dance provides benefits to Parkinson’s patients beyond the benefits from other types of exercise, such as greater improvement in balance and quality of life. One study, which examined an intervention involving tango lessons for Parkinson’s patients, found that patients improved significantly in their balance, quality of life, and motivation to attend therapy lessons. This and other studies suggest that partnered dance, in particular, provides additional benefits for motivation and enthusiasm among participants due to the social nature of the therapy.

One study, which focused specifically on Huntington’s, examined the effects of the Dance Dance Revolution video game on participants with Huntington’s Disease. Participants played the game, with supervision and assistance, twice per week for six weeks. At the end of this trial, the study reports that patients improved performance at the game, enjoyed playing, and expressed interest in continuing to play after the study finished. Furthermore, patients exhibited significant improvement in double support percentage, an indicator of normal walking gait, for both forward and backward walking, and patients with less severe symptomssaw improvement in heel-to-heel base of support as well.

More explicit study of Huntington’s Disease is required in order to draw definite conclusions about the benefits of DT in Huntington’s. It is important to note that the benefits and risks of dance therapies may vary greatly depending upon the physical conditions of the participant, and thus should be approached with care and consultation.

For Further Reading:

  1. American Dance Therapy Association website:
  2. Blandy, L. M., Beevers, W. A., Fitzmaurice, K., & Morris, M. E. (2015). Therapeutic argentine tango dancing for people with mild Parkinson’s disease: a feasibility study. Frontiers in neurology, 6, 122. This study examines tango for patients with Parkinson’s, specifically focusing feasibility and safety, as well as benefits to depression.
  1. Earhart, G. M. (2009). Dance as therapy for individuals with Parkinson disease. European journal of physical and rehabilitation medicine, 45(2), 231. A summary of what is known, as of 2009, about dance therapy benefits for Parkinson’s patients, as well as discussion of needed research.
  1. Heiberger, L., Maurer, C., Amtage, F., Mendez-Balbuena, I., Schulte-Mönting, J., Hepp-Reymond, M. C., & Kristeva, R. (2011). Impact of a weekly dance class on the functional mobility and on the quality of life of individuals with Parkinson’s disease. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, 3, 14. A study of the benefits of regular dance classes on Parkinson’s patients.
  1. Kloos, A. D., Fritz, N. E., Kostyk, S. K., Young, G. S., & Kegelmeyer, D. A. (2013). Video game play (Dance Dance Revolution) as a potential exercise therapy in Huntington’s disease: a controlled clinical trial. Clinical rehabilitation, 27(11), 972-982. This paper reports on the study of Huntington’s Disease and Dance Dance Revolution video game, referenced in the preceding article. It is a fairly easy read, though it does use technical language for walking gait measures.
  1. Patterson, K. K., Wong, J. S., Prout, E. C., & Brooks, D. (2018). Dance for the rehabilitation of balance and gait in adults with neurologicalconditions other than Parkinson’s disease: A systematic review. Heliyon, 4(3), e00584. A study of the benefits of dance therapy on patients with neurodegenerative diseases other than Parkinson’s, including Huntington’s Disease.
  1. Schrag, Brian. “A Triple Insider’s Take on Arts Therapy, Arts-based Community Development, and Huntington’s Disease” (2015) : An article written by a Huntington’s Disease patient who works in the field of art therapy and music. This piece delves into the author’s experience as someone with HD and involved in art therapy, including original songs by the author and some discussion of dance therapy. This article is anecdotal, not scientific.
  1. Šumec, R., Filip, P., Sheardová, K., & Bareš, M. (2015). Psychological benefits of nonpharmacological methods aimed for improving balance in Parkinson’s disease: a systematic review. Behavioural neurology, 2015. This paper provides a meta-analysis of research on non-medical interventions for balance in Parkinson’s Disease, including dance therapy. The section on dance therapy is concise and fairly informative about the benefits of tango and partner dance. The paper provides a helpful overview without too much detail.