spotlight on volunteers - UCLH Friends Trust member and NHNN volunteer, Sheila Saunders

Sheila Saunders has been volunteering with Dancing with Parkinson’s at National Hospital for Neurology since the beginning of 2019. She is a valued member of the group and a passionate advocate for Dancing with Parkinson’s. Here she introduces herself and why she gets involved:


My name is Sheila , and I am a volunteer at the National hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. I have been involved in supporting the dancing with Parkinson's session for a while now.

What I think is important is not just the dancing, but everything that surrounds the programme. When patients arrive to partake in the sessions, they are welcomed warmly by Danielle and her team, offered refreshments and the chance to share and connect with each other. This is so important in a hospital environment which is so often very busy, and there is not enough time to communicate with people. The class helps change the relationship with the hospital environment.

The sessions are a fun and friendly way to encourage people with Parkinson's to engage with movement, which helps their condition. Sometimes during the sessions, a patient might need a helping hand to steady them while moving to the music, and I am there to help if people need me.

I also believe that movement to music is a great way to help with all sorts of medical problems because it is so much fun that you do not think about the challenges you are facing when you are in the class. I have spinal stenosis condition and moving to the music is an easy way to help my body move without too much pressure or expectation.

The dance sessions are done in a group which is very important for mood and self esteem. Everyone feels accepted and this stops any concern with self-consciousness. It is a dance session that is only once a week, but it is very special, and can make such a lot of difference in a short space of time to a person’s wellbeing.

I am also  a member of the UCLH Friends Trust , and firmly believe that projects like this should be encouraged and funded to help all patients. It is a drug free way to help with pain and discomfort, and we at the National Hospital are very lucky to have Danielle and musician Jaka bringing their work directly into the hospital.

The NHS is there for our patients, and Danielle is there for everyone who wants to attend, giving her time and energy into something she firmly believes in. I think that we should embrace this and help support it in any way we can.

To give to the Dancing with Parkinson’s project at National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, you can donate via the Dancing with Parkinson’s fund supported by The National Brain Appeal - use this link for our Just Giving Page to find out more:

classes continue at Queen Square

After a successful pilot at National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery 2018-19 I am delighted we will be continuing regular sessions this week. Dancers have been involved in a variety of creative projects since the classes began, including submitting a beautiful film to the World Parkinson’s Congress this March.

Please download the classes flyer here for more information, or get in touch with us at

Summer term classes take place on Thursdays from 23 May to 4 July 2019.

Our recent presentation at the Dancing with Parkinson’s in Practice Symposium demonstrated the high quality artistic work we have been exploring, and the research questions we are beginning to refine alongside the dancers.

This film by Marco Benozzi was screened at the symposium and I’m thrilled to share it with you now:

Crane Dance Choreographic Project - WPC 2019

Dancing with Parkinson’s dancers from the Danielle Teale Dance class at National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery took part in the international Crane Dance Project this term, initiated by Dance for PD (USA). This project sees dance groups from around the world creating choreography to be screened at the World Parkinson’s Congress in Kyoto this June.

Our dance, untitled ‘Taking off and Landing’ was inspired by the control and power of a bird in flight. The dancers explored this concept through choreographic tasks and devised a set phrase together in unison as well as including their improvised responses in lead and follow tasks in their final film.

The Danielle Teale Dance programme is always collaborative, and this project was developed in collaboration with lead musician Jaka Skapin who composed and recorded the music especially for the dancers in this project.

We hope you enjoy our final result…

Dancing with Parkinson's in Practice, Symposium round-up

Last week, with an international audience of over 75 guests, I was delighted to host and present the first Dancing with Parkinson’s in Practice symposium in collaboration with the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN) and Institute for Neurology.

The symposium was opened by colleague and friend David Leventhal, Founding teacher and Director of Dance for PD, who generously shared his thoughts on the practice of telling stories - we have to honour the real stories and find ways to share them… This set the tone for the evening and the values of our programme, which champions the voices of people with Parkinson’s and puts their stories at the centre of the practice.

Stories need telling, for which you need language, and words only go so far – most of life takes place well beyond the reach of words. Words can convey inner states, but they are always about things, they are not the thing itself - all this evening’s talk about dance is not actual dance. For me, the value in dance class is learning an expressive art - a creative language for both Body and Being, good for exploring and expressing things deeper than words
— Leslie Mapp (dancer with Parkinson’s)

The evening followed with presentations from Danielle Teale, artistic initiator of Dancing with Parkinson’s, and Ben Beare, research Physiotherapist and collaborator for the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery programme. Teale and Beare have been working together on a pilot research for the programme, and the presentation was an honest insight into the challenges of researching dance, and the pitfalls of data capture measures. Teale and Beare are continuing their research partnership and exploring new approaches in the continued programme from May 2019.

The main event of the evening was an opportunity to hear from our expert panel of dancers with Parkinson’s. Chaired by Alison Williams, who sits on the Dance for Parkinson’s Partnership UK Steering Group, and is a dancer with Scottish Ballet’s Dance for Parkinson’s Programme in Edinburgh.

For me, although the studio space is wonderful and full of light, the emotional and spiritual space of the class is equally important. The teachers create it, and our volunteers support it, and the dancers co-create it as well.
— Alison Williams (dancer with Parkinson's)

Dancer Leslie Mapp who is a long standing member of Danielle Teale Dance, Dancing with Parkinson’s in Hackney at St. Joseph’s Hospice, gave a moving speech about the power of dancing and a true insight into the experience of a dancer with Parkinson’s. You can read an abridged version of this on the blog from a previous entry: Swan Song

As the disease progresses, you do learn new words - from medicine, from psychology, from statistics - but none successfully conveys the profound depths of the experience. It’s inexpressible in words, it needs speaking not just speaking about. Which is why the particular combination of music, choreography and infectious enthusiasm that Danielle brings to her classes is so rewarding.

Not only does it provide me with physical exercise for the movement disorder, it also provides me with a language for directly expressing my new persona as a person with Parkinson’s. And I’m learning the best way, immersed in company with native speakers. Everyone in the class is fluent in either Parkinson’s or dance, and we’re all learning from each other. Sure, I’d get the same physical workout from the gym, but most probably in an atmosphere of conflict and competition – refuse those limitations, fight that disease. Now that Parkinson’s and I are inseparable, I prefer the gentler language that dance speaks, one of working together, of exploring and expressing just who I am right now - in a language of collaboration, imagination, self.
— Leslie Mapp (dancer with Parkinson's)

Then the remaining panel, dancers Anne Prest, Steve Harris and Angie Heathfield, were invited to speak about their experiences - why dance, what keeps you coming, does the space affect your experience, what is important to you about leadership… all these questions opened a valuable dialogue between audience and dancers about their experience and what we can learn from them.

The Dancing with Parkinson’s programme at National Hospital for Neurology continues in May 2019 with regular classes and research taking place, funded by the National Brain Appeal. Keep in touch with us for more information and sign up to our newsletter for regular updates.

Enthusiasm, creativity and empathy

Anne has been dancing in Danielle’s Dancing with Parkinson’s programme at the National Hospital for Neurology since September 2018. In this personal account she shares the value of dancing in her life living with Parkinson’s…

“Through an evening physiotherapy event at the NHNN I heard about Danielle’s plans for a new group based at the hospital, and I was fortunate to be invited to join them. Once again the positive feeling of belonging to a supportive group with a shared experience and a positive, experienced teacher has been vital to my own well-being, and by extension to my husband and children.”

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