5 Ways Movement Enhances A Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosis

By Erica Hornthal, MA, LCPC, BC-DMT; CEO Chicago Dance Therapy

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I’m not here to tell you why exercise or a certain type of activity like dance or yoga, is beneficial.  Anyone can type “PD and exercise” into Google and read one of 63 million results. What I would like to share are the psychosocial implications that arise from engaging in movement.  How movement enhances our emotional, social, and cognitive well-being is imperative following a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.

Movement, our earliest form of communication, seems to be taken for granted only until we see it deteriorate or are faced with a degenerative disease that reminds us that our movements are so much more.  They are a connection to ourselves and our environment. Engaging in movement is not just about maintaining our physicality, but about preserving our existence.


Assists in symptom management: Research has shown that movement can help manage problems with gait, balance, tremors, flexibility, and coordination.  Improved mobility has been shown to decrease the risk of falling as well as other complications from PD. This often occurs because the brain is learning to use dopamine more efficiently.  

Promotes self-awareness and identity: Every person has a different way of moving and certain affinities toward movement.  It is those differences that promote a capacity for introspection and the ability to stand out as an individual.  Muscle memory even has the ability to tap into memories stored in the brain. Movement has the ability to retain our memories and create new ones.  

Maintains a sense of control: Connection to our breath, the most primitive form of movement, enables us to control our pulse rate, circulation, and even our thoughts.  This is so important for when we feel like things are out of our control or when our body is not functioning the way we would like, we have the power through our own breath to take back a sense of control.  

Builds psychological resilience: Movement has the ability to actually increase our adaptability to stress and adversity.  Reinforcing our own connection to the body empowers our psyche and encourages inner core strength.  This core I’m referring to isn’t your abdominals, but rather your identity. Connecting to the muscles in your chest, torso, and pelvis tap into your belief system, identity formation, and personality.

Maintains social connections: From early on in human existence, there is documentation of celebration and rejoicing through song and movement.  Movement has the ability to connect us with others without verbal communication. We can join in someone’s experience just by witnessing and empathically embracing their body language.


These 5 ways in which movement enhances our mind body connection are just the tip of the iceberg.  Movement is more than just exercise and physical fitness. Movement is body language, expression, and creativity.  Movement is an innate part of being human and just because that ability changes when diagnosed with PD, that does not mean that we should give up all that it entails.  It is even more imperative that we engage in movement to preserve that very part of who we.

Erica Hornthal is a licensed professional clinical counselor and board certified dance/movement therapist. She received her MA in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling from Columbia College Chicago and her BS in psychology from University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana.  

Erica is the founder and president of North Shore Dance Therapy and Chicago Dance Therapy. As a psychotherapist in private practice, Erica specializes in working with older adults who are diagnosed with dementia and movement disorders. Her work has been highlighted nationally in Social Work Magazine, Natural Awakenings, and locally in the Chicago Tribune as well as on WCIU and WGN.  


Parkinson’s Awareness Month: #StartAConversation

Every April, the Parkinson’s Foundation engages the global Parkinson’s community to support Parkinson’s Awareness Month. When we raise awareness about Parkinson’s and how the Foundation helps make lives better for people with PD, we can do more together to improve care and advance research toward a cure.

Enhancing Performance: Becoming an Embodied Athlete

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By: Erica Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT, CEO, Chicago Dance Therapy

The mind-body connection is a hot topic and it is more than mindfulness and meditation. Embodiment is the ability to connect to your feelings, senses, thoughts, sensations and existence, not just in your mind, but in your physical being as well. When we disconnect from our bodies, we lose the ability to relate, communicate and even empathize with those around us including ourselves.  Just because you are an athlete, physically active or are currently participating in a mind-body exercise that does not mean that you are living an embodied existence. Sometimes those practices actually create a greater disconnect because we are looking for the aesthetic or the perfection in it, not the enlightened path or awareness that is intended.

So how does living an embodied life correlate to enhanced performance?  Well when we are more aware of how our actions, physical activities, or even training regimens affect our mental health we can protect ourselves from burnout, fatigue, and stress (physical and emotional).  When asked what advice she had for a rising tennis player, Martina Navratilova said, “under train.” Although this seems counterintuitive, what it suggests is that we do not push our bodies past the point of mental and physical fatigue.  Many pro athletes will attest to a balance of mind, body, and even spirit to keep them grounded and in the game.

Looking to increase your self-awareness and performance?  Here are some tips:

Utilize your breath to its fullest potential.

Breathing not only lubricates our joints and fuels our workouts, but it can actually help manage the parasympathetic nervous system which is vital to staying calm and focused.  

Warm-up your body and mind before and after a performance, game, or practice.

Performing stretches that enhance the connections in the brain also enhance your level of performance by creating more mental acuity, focus, and resilience.  

Listen to your body.  

Your body is always talking and often times it is trying to guide, warn, or even protect you from further harm or injury.  Pain for example isn’t a punishment. It is a signal that something is out of alignment. Instead of pushing through or ignoring it, try to listen and evaluate what the pain is for and what it is trying to tell you.  Work with your PT, OT, or physician to identify the cause and create a treatment plan.

If you are looking to increase your connection to your own body and how it connects to your mind, contact Chicago Dance Therapy.

Get Your Mind to a New Place This Summer

Clinical counselor and dance movement therapist Erica Hornthal gives us tips on how to get your mind to a new place this summer.

Unlocking Your Potential through Movement: An Exploration of Dance/Movement Therapy

By Erica Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT

As a society we have long known the healing benefits of dance. Dance can improve cognition and memory, it can reduce stress, and it can help us get in shape. However, not many people know the emotional and psychological impact movement has on mental health.  Dance applied as an intervention within the therapeutic relationship unlocks individual potential; the potential to increase productivity, maximize performance, manage chronic pain or injury, and connect to passion and purpose.  

What is dance/movement therapy?

According to the American Dance Therapy Association, founded in 1966, “dance/movement therapy is the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive and physical integration of the individual.” It is a creative arts therapy that uses movement as the means to observe, assess, and intervene in an individual’s overall health.  Movement is the most primitive instinctual form of communication and expression. It allows for a deeper level of understanding, validation and support.  Not only is no dance experience or coordination needed to reap the benefits, but also, unlike psychotropic medications, there are no negative side effects.  

What is the different between dance and dance/movement therapy?

Dance is a performance art form usually consisting of stylized or choreographed sequences of movement. It is about expression, aesthetics, and often physicality and skill. Dance/movement therapy is first and foremost a niche form of psychotherapy, facilitated by a master’s level clinician that merely uses, movement, a component of dance, to heal and integrate the mind, body, and spirit of an individual. In dance/movement therapy, the “dance” comes from the individual as an organic expression of the self.

What are the benefits of dance/movement therapy?

Dance/movement therapy can benefit people of all ages, abilities, and life circumstances because it supports the individual on a body level where they are in that specific moment in time. Dance therapy has a broad range of health benefits. It has been demonstrated to be clinically effective at improving body image, self-esteem, attentiveness, and communication skills. It can also reduce stress, fears and anxieties, as well as lessen feelings of isolation, body tension, chronic pain, and depression. In addition it can enhance the functioning of the body’s circulatory and respiratory systems.

What does a session look like?

Dance/movement therapy sessions can look much like a talk therapy session. It is often up to the participant how large the movement is or how indulgent it may be. It can incorporate breathing exercises, meditation, mindfulness, stretching, and yes, dance, in addition to verbal processing. It can be done individually, as a couple, or even in a group. Sessions take place in hospitals, nursing homes, day centers, schools, studios, homes, and offices around the world. It is a holistic body-based therapy that can be done standing up, sitting down, or even from a person’s bedside.

Anyone can participate in dance/movement therapy, regardless of age, physical or even cognitive ability.  If you are interested in deepening your mind-body connection, enhancing physical performance through awareness, or physically and emotionally becoming more efficient, consider dance/movement therapy as your approach to mental and physical integration, growth, and healing.  

For more information, go to the American Dance Therapy Association or contact Chicago Dance Therapy.

Joffrey Ballet Partners with MOR, RUMC

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Sports medicine and foot and ankle specialists from Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush (MOR), who are also on staff at Rush University Medical Center (RUMC), have been selected to serve as preferred medical providers for The Joffrey Ballet, the world-class dance company located in Chicago.

The Joffrey Ballet is the newest professional athletic organization for which this practice provides medical care. MOR physicians are also medical providers for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, the Chicago White Sox, the Chicago Fire Soccer Club, and the Chicago Bulls.

Dr. Simon Lee, foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon and Dr. Leda Ghannad, sports medicine physician, will serve as head physicians for The Joffrey Ballet. Colleagues Drs. Johnny Lin and Kamran Hamid, also foot and ankle orthopedic specialists will round out the medical team for The Joffrey Ballet.

“We will work with the on-site ballet therapists to help the dancers perform in optimal condition, and if an injury does occur, we can immediately provide the required care to minimize time away from performing,” explains Dr. Lee.

An MOR physician will monitor the Joffrey’s on-site training room once a week and attend each of the Chicago performances in February, April and in the summer of 2018. If a higher level of medical care is needed, dancers will be treated at the MOR clinic or at RUMC. The Joffrey team physicians will also provide care for Joffrey staff members.

Approximately 40 percent of dancers’ injuries involve lower extremities, which are typically overuse injuries. “We understand ballet dancers who are a tough breed of elite athletes with rigorous and lengthy daily practice sessions,” says Dr. Ghannad. “While they may sustain acute injuries, dancers’ foot and ankle injuries are usually caused by repetitive movements.”

About The Joffrey Ballet

The Joffrey Ballet is a world-class, Chicago-based ballet company and dance education organization committed to artistic excellence and innovation, presenting a unique repertoire encompassing masterpieces of the past and cutting-edge works. The Joffrey is committed to providing arts education and accessible dance training through its Joffrey Academy of Dance and Community Engagement programs.

About Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush

Rush University Medical Center’s orthopedics program is ranked #1 in Illinois, according to U.S. News and World Report magazine’s 2017-2018 Best Hospitals issue. Rush also has one of the top sports medicine residency and fellowship training programs in the country.