Dance, Sing, Share: Dancer helps others fight back against Parkinson’s

Dance, Sing, Share: Dancer helps others fight back against Parkinson’s

Allyssa Riley says she is a “rarity” in Northwest Arkansas. She is a native of Rogers — and she is perhaps the only one who teaches her particular kind of Dance for Parkinson’s Disease class, which combines movement with singing and more.

Riley says she started dancing with Mackie Atha Watson at Rogers School of Dance when she was just 5 years old. Although she switched to gymnastics after that, then got too busy with her studies to continue with dance, she says “Ms. Mackie” “made a tremendous impression on me.”

“She had rehabilitated her back with ballet after a serious car accident,” Riley remembers. “I never forgot that. I started to have back problems in my 20s, and I knew I needed to get back into dance. After looking for 13 years for a local studio that would accept adult students, I finally found my current dance home at the Northwest Arkansas Conservatory of Classical Ballet in Bentonville. I have been dancing there for 10 years now.

“Dance is my refuge from the storms of life,” she continues. “Dance has turned into one of my life’s passions. Besides helping my back, dance has given me so many other benefits such as improved balance and coordination, increased strength and flexibility and a positive way to relieve stress. I wanted to share these benefits with others, [and] my nursing friend encouraged me to check out the Dance for Parkinson’s training program through the Mark Morris Dance Group in Brooklyn, New York. It was a perfect fit for me.”

Created more than 20 years ago, the Dance for PD program starts with somatic movement “to allow participants to get in touch with how their body is working that day,” Riley says. “Next are choreographed movements used to improve spatial orientation and awareness. Classes are designed to start with bigger movements which are generally easier for people with Parkinson’s and gradually work into the trickier fine movements. Eventually, when accessible to the participants, we work up to standing exercises and moving across the floor.

“Anyone can take my classes. It’s particularly great for anyone with balance concerns.”

Riley says what sets her class apart from others is that all the movements can be done entirely from a seated position, partially standing or all standing.

“Dancers work at their level that particularly day.”

She also incorporates facial exercises and a singing section to fight the “facial freezing and inability to speak audibly that can be symptoms of Parkinson’s,” she says.

“I always leave about 30 minutes at the end of class for people to relax, visit, share stories and things that have helped them along their Parkinson’s journey,” Riley adds. “This is a vital part of the class because they can visit with others with the same challenges, people who truly understand what they are going through.

“I love my work as a dance teacher for this remarkable group of people,” she enthuses. “They have taught me much more than I could ever teach them. Their perseverance, hard work, vast knowledge and strength of character are amazing. The best part is this is the only I class I have ever held that I get to see instant results. People come in not moving well, [and] by the end of class they can move better and are visibly happier. They tell me these positive effects last several days.”


Dance and Sing for Parkinson’s

WHEN & WHERE — 10:30 a.m.-noon Mondays beginning April 17 at Peace Lutheran Church in Rogers & 1:30-3 p.m. Tuesdays beginning April 18 at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Bella Vista

COST — $15 per class; caregivers participate for free

INFO — Email or call 381-7907; for more info, visit

FYI — April is National Parkinson’s Awareness Month. Riley will be doing a free demonstration class at the Parkinson’s Awareness Charity Bike Ride and Walk at 11 a.m. April 22 at Horsebarn Trailhead Park, 423 S. Horsebarn Road in Rogers.

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