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Flash Mob Dancers Bring Awareness to Parkinson’s

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Published April 12, 2022 at 1:38 p.m.
Updated April 13, 2022 at 10:07 a.m.


The Flynn's Movement for Parkinson's and wellness class performs on Church Street. - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • The Flynn's Movement for Parkinson's and wellness class performs on Church Street.
More than a dozen people took to Church Street in front of Burlington City Hall on Monday morning to perform a flash mob dance, some in chairs and some standing. They were students in Sara McMahon’s Movement for Parkinson’s class and their friends and families.

Taiko drummers kept the beat, playing a composition called “Spare Time,” while a street audience of all ages joined in on the dancing — including the youngest onlookers, who came from the Greater Burlington YMCA. The day, April 11, marked World Parkinson’s Day; April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month.

McMahon started leading her classes at the Flynn eight years ago; her husband, Gary Martin, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2012.



“The most amazing part of this work is the people you meet,” she said. “People connect very quickly, and it’s a very close community. They embrace each other. It’s intense.”

She noted that it was especially difficult to lose a class member due to complications from the progressive nervous system disorder. Since the program began, it has lost 18 people, she said.

A retired psychotherapist, McMahon co-owned Main Street Dance Theater in Burlington from the mid-’70s to the mid-’80s, she said. Three years ago, she became a certified Parkinson’s disease dance instructor after studying with Mark Morris Dance Group in Brooklyn.

McMahon now teaches two weekly Zoom classes to about 30 people and just started a hybrid in-person/virtual class at the Flynn. Before COVID-19, she taught all of her classes in person around the state and witnessed the benefits first-hand, she said.

“Walking into class, the posture would be forward bending; the balance would be off and there would be more rigidity in their bodies,” she said of her students. “Their speech may be a little slurred or slow. By the time the class ended, they’re much more alive inside. They’re more connected aesthetically, and their voices are stronger.”
The Flynn's Movement for Parkinson's and wellness class performs on Church Street. - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • The Flynn's Movement for Parkinson's and wellness class performs on Church Street.
One of the dancers, Joey Klein, wore an infectious smile throughout Monday’s performance. Klein farmed vegetables at Littlewood Farm in Plainfield from 1987 until Parkinson’s forced him to retire.

“One of the features of Parkinson’s is, it can make you feel like not doing anything at all — sort of immobilized,” Klein said. “That doesn’t do you any good, and you get stiffer with time.” He said the dance classes “loosen you up and get your right-left and up-down going.” Nobody cares whether students do the moves exactly right.
The Flynn's Movement for Parkinson's and wellness class performs on Church Street. - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • The Flynn's Movement for Parkinson's and wellness class performs on Church Street.
McMahon’s husband, Martin, a former taiko drummer, played with the taiko group at the flash mob performance. He said he hoped to shine some light on “the fact that people with Parkinson’s can do a lot of things and that… people should react to people with Parkinson’s as they would react to anybody.”

For the finale of Monday’s performance, the dancers layered themselves into shapes to create a large display called a dance sculpture. Then they formed a community circle while “Imagine” played. McMahon said she hoped the John Lennon song would “send out some healing energy to the world.”
The Flynn's Movement for Parkinson's and wellness class performs on Church Street. - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • The Flynn's Movement for Parkinson's and wellness class performs on Church Street.
Don Levi, a retired pediatrician, drove up from Nashua, N.H., to participate with his wife, Heidi. The couple recently started the dance class virtually after hearing about it from a newsletter put out by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where Don goes for Parkinson’s treatment. Heidi, who doesn’t have Parkinson’s, said the classes have increased her flexibility.

After the performance, Don said, “When you have a neurological-type disease that can be progressive, I think so much depends on your attitude, having fun, enjoying other people and trying new things. This is why we’re here.”

The group will open for Mark Morris Dance Group at the Flynn on May 17. Learn more about the Flynn’s free Movement for Parkinson’s classes here.