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Ballroom dancing class helps Kathy feel ‘new’ and ‘normal’

Adaptive Dance Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital 1Kathy Robinson is no wallflower. The 62-year-old retired school teacher loves to kayak, do yoga and dance. And despite her 2011 diagnosis of secondary-progressive multiple sclerosis, Kathy still does all three.

Kathy is enrolled in Wheelchair & Adaptive Sports’ (WAS) new Ballroom Dancing course, which promote participants’ physical, social and emotional well-being.

“Sometimes I can barely walk, but I’m dancing,” Kathy said during a recent class, part of a 6-week series being held at Social Dance Studio in Grand Rapids.

The inaugural class is taught by dance instructor Jo Garber and coordinated by recreational therapist Mike Burkhart.

“When it comes to ballroom dance, or any organized dance for that matter, there have been several reputable studies done to show the therapeutic benefits that combat different disabilities, such as multiple sclerosis, stroke and Parkinson’s disease,” Mike said. “With that, in my opinion, some of the greatest value comes from the smiles that programs like this bring to the individuals participating in them.”

Students enrolled in Jo’s ballroom dancing class are patients in Mary Free Bed’s continuum of care, such as those who have experienced a stroke or have a physical disability and use a wheelchair for mobility.

“We work on balance, strength and posture – things we would do with anyone,” Jo said. “I don’t treat my students from Mary Free Bed any differently than I do other students.”

As Kathy and her husband, Tom, glided across the dance floor, Jo corrected their form and timing.Adaptive Dance Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital 4

“We laugh a lot, and I feel like I’m doing something ‘new’ or ‘normal’ again,” Kathy said. “It’s fun to learn something new, like ballroom dancing. It has been wonderful to meet people who have similar limitations and to develop supportive relationships. They inspire me.”

Kathy credits WAS classes and clinics with instilling a “can-do” spirit. She chose Mary Free Bed for rehabilitation twice – first for a ruptured brain aneurysm in 2004 and following her multiple sclerosis diagnosis.

“Without a doubt, the way in which Mary Free Bed has helped me most is in the positive attitude of everyone there,” said Kathy, whose MS is progressive but has remained static “thanks to the professionals at Mary Free Bed.”

She plans to continue to participate in WAS classes and clinics, and to do volunteer work, including tutoring young at-risk readers.

“Mary Free Bed will help me by encouraging me to keep a positive attitude and providing me with the therapy, assistive devices and treatments needed to help keep my body strong and functional,” she said. “Mary Free Bed never has given up on me, and because of that, I will not give up on myself.”

And she’ll keep dancing.

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