Diablo Ballet class for Parkinson’s patients proves everyone can dance

Diablo Ballet class for Parkinson’s patients proves everyone can dance

Diablo Ballet class for Parkinson’s patients proves everyone can dance
Parkinson’s patients raise their arms as part of Diablo ­Ballet’s special dance class. (Photos by Kara Navolio)

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (August 22, 2022) — Parkinson’s patients can experience the power of dance in a new class that provides joy, a sense of community, and increased balance and flexibility.

Diablo Ballet began offering this special class in person in July, with Parkinson’s patients and their caregivers receiving free tuition thanks to a grant from the Parkinson’s Foundation.

“This class has such a sense of community and family. I’ve seen some amazing things happen,” says instructor Danielle Troyano, who is also part of Diablo Ballet’s professional company.

Troyano was certified to teach the class through Mark Morris Dance Center in New York six years ago. At that time, she was a professional ballet dancer with Ballet Idaho and became passionate about this work after seeing her grandfather struggle with the disease.

She came to Diablo Ballet two years ago and worked with artistic director Lauren Jonas to bring the program to Contra Costa.

‘Almost magical’

The local launch occurred during the pandemic and did not take off because of the online nature of the class. However, this summer they offered it in person and worked with the Mt. Diablo Parkinson’s Network. The class filled up with patients and their caregivers who were eager to make connections again.

“The class is great. It provides exercise, beautiful music, and it’s very uplifting – almost magical,” says Meena Mehta of Walnut Creek.

She attends with her husband Remesh, who was diagnosed four years ago. Mehta says the joyful class makes him feel better.

Troyano chooses music that has a positive and uplifting beat, like Frank Sinatra tunes, jazz, Broadway hits and classical music.

The class starts with everyone seated and doing upper body stretching, followed by a moment of gratitude. Then arm movements get everyone’s upper bodies swaying. Troyano leads them through some ballet movements, the tango and improvised creative expression.

Toward the end of class, participants who can stand use their chairs for balance and add kicks and plies. Some even travel across the room to the theme of “West Side Story.”

The joy in the room is palpable, and the power of dance to transform lives is visible while patients who may have had a hard time walking into the class are tapping a beat, doing a modified tango or dancing the cha-cha out the door.

Helping the community

This outreach program is just one of many from Diablo Ballet, a professional ballet company performing at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts and internationally for 29 years.

They have reached more than 70,000 students, providing creative movement classes to children in Title 1 schools, teens in juvenile hall and teens at the Behavioral Health Inpatient Unit at John Muir Medical Center.

Their PEEK (Performing Arts Education and Enrichment) program is based on California’s Visual and Performing Arts standards. They also offer adaptive dance at their ballet school in Pleasant Hill for children on the Autism spectrum.

Fall classes for Parkinson’s patients begin on Aug. 21. No experience is necessary.

For more information, please visit diabloballet.org.

Kara Navolio
Kara Navolio

Kara Navolio is a freelance writer, telling stories of real life heroes and interesting people for several local newspapers since 2015, including The Pioneer and Lamorinda Weekly.  She is also the editor of a local magazine, Northgate Living, and her debut children’s picture book Everybody Can Dance! was  released by Brandylane Publishers, Inc. in May 2019.  She has lived in Walnut Creek with her husband for 30 years and is the mom of two now grown children.