Suzanne Salapa Improves Life for Central Floridians With Parkinson’s Disease Through Dance — Faculty Highlight

By Wendy Jo Moyer

For Dance Department Chair and Professor of Dance Suzanne Salapa, teaching dance is so much more than training future professional dancers. It’s about using her gift and the arts to help the community — even community members you wouldn’t expect to take a dance class. For the past four years, Suzanne has taught a Movement as Medicine class for Central Floridians with Parkinson’s disease with AdventHealth’s Parkinson’s Outreach Center.

When she started this endeavor, Suzanne was approached by then Florida Hospital regarding starting a class for this group, and she received intense training from the Mark Morris Dance Group Dance for PD (Parkinson’s disease) program.

Dance for PD offers specialized dance classes to people with Parkinson’s, their families, friends and care partners in eight locations in New York City and, through its network of affiliates, in more than 100 communities in 20 countries around the world. Dance for PD classes allow people with Parkinson’s to experience the joys and benefits of dance while creatively addressing symptom-specific concerns related to balance, cognition, motor skills, depression and physical confidence.

“We increase the students’ range of motion as well as their flexibility to help them in their everyday life,” shared Suzanne. “I love to see the joy in them and how the physicality of their movement gets bigger and bigger with every class.”

The program’s fundamental working principle is that professionally trained dancers are movement experts whose knowledge about balance, sequencing, rhythm and aesthetic awareness is useful to persons with Parkinson’s. In class, teaching artists integrate movement from modern, ballet, tap, folk and social dancing, as well as choreographic repertory to engage participants’ minds and bodies and create an enjoyable, social environment for artistic exploration.

In fact, Suzanne’s dancers have even performed the program’s choreography. Soon after starting the program at AdventHealth, the dancers participated in a pilot program through the Mark Morris Dance Group Dance for PD.

“We were one of two programs selected nationally to learn a piece of Morris repertory that was adapted for Parkinson’s dancers,” Suzanne explained. “The experience was to be assessed, filmed and submitted to Mark Morris Dance Group Dance for PD. Upon further review, Dance for PD decided that this work would be of benefit to a network of Dance for PD folks, and the project was rolled out a year later nationally.”

And this success has led to live performances.

“Because we were filming and working so hard,” Suzanne said, “I offered the Movement as Medicine dancers an opportunity to showcase their work. They performed the piece at the dance program performance, called ‘Evening of Dance’ [held at Valencia’s East Campus Performing Arts Center]. Due to the positive feedback from that experience, we have been making it an annual event. We believe that by showcasing these talented Movement as Medicine dancers alongside the College dancers that we’re on to something that is important to demonstrate to the public that, even if you have Parkinson’s, everyone can dance.”

Throughout the program, Suzanne has taught 55 students with approximately 12 – 18 students per class. The group meets two days per month for an hour and 15 minutes at the AdventHelath Church in Orlando.

Recently, Orange Television interviewed Suzanne about the program and covered one of her classes. Watch the video below:

Do you know a faculty member doing great work? Or, perhaps you’d like to share the work you’re doing? Send the colleague’s (or your) name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu and include Faculty Highlight Nomination in the subject line of your email. We might just feature your colleague (or you) as an upcoming Faculty Highlight.

4 Comments

  • Pam Sandy said:

    Great work, Suzanne!

    PMThu, 28 Mar 2019 16:18:06 +0000Thu, 28 Mar 2019 16:18:06 +0000pm19,4:18 pm

  • Amy Bosley said:

    This is incredibly meaningful work, Suzanne. Thank you for extending your talents to serve in this way.

    PMThu, 28 Mar 2019 16:27:59 +0000Thu, 28 Mar 2019 16:27:59 +0000pm19,4:27 pm

  • Erin said:

    Suzanne is a gem. Wow. What a great gift her work is!

    PMThu, 28 Mar 2019 18:24:23 +0000Thu, 28 Mar 2019 18:24:23 +0000pm19,6:24 pm

  • egaythwaite said:

    Most excellent work, Suzanne!

    AMFri, 29 Mar 2019 08:43:05 +0000Fri, 29 Mar 2019 08:43:05 +0000am19,8:43 am

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