Dance instructor starting program for Parkinson’s patients

By Page H. Gifford, Correspondent

Angell Husted described herself at a young age as a tomboy in frills. She has always loved the arts, particularly dance. During a 10-year span from age 6 to 16, she took ballet lessons while growing up in Pleasant Valley, N.Y. She has been teaching dance and fitness for 36 years with students ranging from toddlers to grandmothers – and even great-grandmothers at age 92.

“Movement and music has always been a love and passion of mine,” she said. Prior to realizing her dream of dance and passing it along to others, she graduated from Syracuse University with a dual degree from the School of Education and the School of Speech & Dramatic Arts. She got her graduate degree at the University of Virginia’s School of Speech & Language Pathology (now known as U.Va.’s Curry School of Education).

In 1972 she started her career in radio. Then in 1974 she became one of the first female television news directors and anchors in the United States, enjoying positions as anchor, producer and reporter at three NBC-affiliated television stations in Charlottesville. During this time she became involved in volunteering and fundraising for various charities and non-profits. Giving back to the community has been a ritual in her life and many organizations, including the American Heart Association, the March of Dimes and many others, have benefited from Husted’s diligence and enthusiasm for causes she believes in.

She often finds a way to combine her love of dance and raising money for worthy causes, like she did in 1973 when she held a 48-hour dance marathon for multiple sclerosis. In 2000 she made a Guinness World Record for tap dancing the longest, but in 2003 she broke her own record by tapping two-thirds of a mile and raising $20,000 for Habitat for Humanity.

Now, she wants to raise money for a program to help those with Parkinson’s Disease enjoy music and movement as much as she does. The program is known as The Dance for PD. Founded in 2001, it offers specialized dance classes to people with Parkinson’s Disease, their families, friends and care partners, with ongoing classes now in more than 100 communities and 20 countries around the world. “Parkinson’s is a progressive neurodegenerative movement disorder. Classes empower people with Parkinson’s to safely explore movement and music in ways that are stimulating, creative and joyful,” said Husted. “Students learn to enhance their aesthetic awareness and grace while addressing such PD-specific concerns as balance, flexibility, coordination, gait and depression.”

Husted’s interest in the Dance for PD program began when a couple – the husband had Parkinson’s –contacted her to teach them how to tango because they had read that dance helps people with Parkinson’s. After that Husted began researching while teaching the couple to tango.

“Reaching further back in my history, I think the inspirational seed for my getting involved with something like this germinated over 30 years ago, while my wonderful father-in-law, Harold Bell Wright, was suffering from and then died with Parkinson’s,” she said.

Husted explained that the program helps to develop flexibility, instills confidence, breaks isolation, and stimulates cognitive activity that connects the mind to the body. It focuses attention on the senses as tools in assisting with movement and balance.

“It also sparks creativity, reminding us that the essence of dance is joy,” she said. “I personally know that music and movement is powerful, healing, joyful medicine for the body, mind, heart and spirit. I tell people all the time that dancing saved my life.”

When her 17-year-old son, Timo, was killed in an October 2000 car accident, she learned what the strength of music and dance could do in her life.“I believe if I hadn’t had the healing empowerment of music and movement and such wonderful students, I shudder to think what might have become of me,” she said. “It’s so true that [music and dance helps] to heal a broken heart.”

Her Dance for Parkinson’s program, which begins Oct. 24, will include all ages, including those with early-onset Parkinson’s.
The most important accomplishment of the program is that it provides a less clinical experience and is instead more creative.

“Participants are thought of and referred to as dancers, not patients. PD is not discussed; dance is,” she said.

This has led Husted to have another fundraiser: Coy Roy’s Paintings for Parkinson’s. Coy Roy was a long-time student and personal training client of Angell’s who died in 2008 with Parkinson’s. To raise money for her program, Husted is auctioning off 40 of Roy’s paintings, donated by her husband Rob.

Roy was also a long-time member of the Fluvanna Art Association (FAA), and Husted recognized Roy’s fellow FAA member, Peter Almonte, who recently passed away from Parkinson’s. It is because of these people, along with her father in-law, that she feels this program is necessary. And the couple that learned the tango will be back to take her class.

“One needs to help others be happier and healthier, and my plan is to keep doing that as long as I am able,” said Husted. “I just entered my eighth decade of life and don’t plan to stop any time soon sharing the love and joy of music and movement.”

Coy Roy’s Paintings for Parkinson’s show and reception will be held Saturday, Oct. 13 from 3-5 pm at Angell’s School of Dance located at 19 Centre Court near Lake Monticello. The proceeds help provide the free Dance for Parkinson’s classes. There will be a pre-show and sale for Angell’s current students during regular class times Oct. 2-12.

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