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NYer of the Week: William Wade Accompanies Parkinson's Disease Patients Who Use Dance as Therapy

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For over a decade, The Mark Morris Dance Group in Brooklyn hosts a program that uses the therapeutic power of dance to motivate people living with Parkinson's Disease, and the latest New York of the Week is the reason why they keep coming back for more. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following report.

In the studio, seniors with Parkinson's Disease don't think of themselves as patients. They're dancers, and movement is their medicine, guided by William Wade's music.

"We can't really explain how it works, but the fact that music reaches us on an emotional level, I think is amazing, and it talks in a way that no other thing that I'm familiar with or certain that I can do, does," Wade says.

The self-taught pianist has played for Dance for PD for more than 10 years. The program's goal is to engage people with Parkinson's in an artistic way. Instructors create the moves, while William creates the journey.

"One moment, you're in Spain, the next moment, you're doing a scene from "West Side Story," and then, you're into the "Moonlight Sonata" by Beethoven," says David Leventhal, program director and instructor for Dance for PD. "He's able to make those jumps very easily, and because of that, he carries everyone's imagination along with him."

He also does it without rehearsal or sheet music. The instructors leave it up to this human jukebox to accompany their dance steps. Any tempo, any style.

"He's tremendously responsive and constantly surprising us with song selections that are utterly appropriate for the moment," says Andrew Thomas, a participant in Dance for PD. "He's the spirit of the class, in a way."

"The teachers are wonderful, but when he's here, there's a vitality and there's an energy, and you forget that you have Parkinson's Disease, and you forget that your right leg is shaking," said Joan Frohman, a participant in Dance for PD. "You're just totally immersed in the music that he plays. It's just a very uplifting experience."

That spirit is making a difference off the dance floor as well.

"You can see the effect that it has on the people, and you see the enjoyment they get from it," Wade says. "When they enter the class and when they leave the class, there is a noticeable difference in terms of their mobility and their mood."

So, for helping seniors dance to their own tune, William Wade is the latest New Yorker of the Week.

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New Yorker of the Week
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