There is a new dynamic in the marriage of Michael and Rosalyn Lieb. They have been married almost a half century. He is an English Professor and she is a lawyer. They have both retired. Not that they wanted to. Life gave them a new challenge. They both have Parkinson’s disease. This is the new third partner in their lives. How they deal with this and the new “hobby” they have begun doing makes their story most interesting.
They are dancing. Research indicates that exercise is good for these patients and combining music with movement seems to create some positive changes in their bodies. Parkinson’s is trying to slowly take their bodies away and dance is giving it back.
Lindsey Tanner, (associated press) writes “that Michaels diagnosis began 11 years ago and Rosalyn became his caretaker. But two years ago she developed a tremor too and was diagnosed as well. “I couldn’t believe it. It seemed incredible to me that we both should have the disease” he said. “It came as a real shock, a real downer. No-one in either family had a history of this disease- it came out of the blue.”
This couple still loves to read, go to the symphony and opera and get together with family and friends. In addition, once a week, they head to an unusual Chicago dance class tailored for Parkinson’s patients. A nurse first recommended it to Michael three years ago and his wife went along-first to help Michael and now to help herself as well.
The tremors and stiff, awkward movements of Parkinson’s hardly seem compatible with dancing. But exercise is recommended for patients to improve flexibility and brain specialists are investigating if dance offers something more. For this couple the answer is clear: “It just lifts the spirits. It does transport us, to a different planet where Parkinson’s doesn’t matter so much. We check our disease at the door and we’re all one community, mutually supportive and we dance together. It’s just a marvelous experience.”
These dancers are not professionals. Yet their moves are poignant and stirring. Some are in wheelchairs or can barely move without their partners’ help. During a recent class, a man stood behind his wife’s chair, leaning down to gently stroke her immobile arms in time with the music. A pianist with two small drums fills the studio with a steady, soothing beat. Their teacher, Sarah Fuller, leads students through basic dance exercises: rhythmic arm lifting, bending and foot stomping. Sometimes they are seated in chairs, sometimes on foot, sashaying in a way with their partners across the dance floor.
Sarah commented: “they assume that they’re not dancers, whereas I see them as dancers. I don’t see the disease-I try not to. I try not to let it permeate the room. But I also see them working through it and pushing to find new ways of movement”.
Music speaks to the emotional brain. Research at Washington University in St. Louis indicates that Parkinson’s patients walk more quickly and with less stiffness if they do the tango twice a week. They theorize that when you hear music it may bypass damaged brain cells making movement easier.
Michael and Rosalyn are less severely affected by Parkinson’s than some of their class mates. Yet their hands shake when they swing their arms toward the ceiling and their halting strides across the floor aren’t as long and graceful as Fuller’s. But when they face each other in a sort of do-se-do, smiling and rhythmically shifting their feet, there’s no question that they’re dancing. The class has become a highlight of their week. Whether the benefits are physical, psychological or both they say dancing” has mobilized something inside of us”.
They are a dignified couple. They are also philosophical about how their lives have changed from this disease. They have sold their family home and scaled down to a condo without stairs. Roslyn says: I have a goal of dancing at my grandchildren’s weddings. Together we represent one unit, one truly healthy person who is becoming unhealthy as time goes on. But that’s ok”.
This couple is dancing through adversity. Has a great ring doesn’t it? It is easy to imagine spiraling down and focusing on all that is lost when there is a diagnosis like this. They made a different choice. They chose to keep moving forward and to keep discovering new ways of being in the world and in their bodies. This article quotes them as saying:” We’re facing up to it and we’re enjoying each other in a way, and loving each other in a way, that would have been impossible without the disease”.
I am most impressed and humbled by this couple and how they are living their lives. I would like to get this amazing learning without a diagnosis of an incurable disease to prompt me. That is one of my intentions for the New Year. Keep moving forward and most important: KEEP DANCING! Ardis