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A new prescription for Parkinson's patients: Hula, Flamenco and tap-dancing

Friday, August 3, 2018

The revitalization of Buffalo was on full display last weekend during National Dance Day.

Cynthia Cadwell Pegado — a dance instructor who specializes in working with those who have Parkinson's disease — led a joyous group in marking the celebration on the boardwalk at Canalside.

Several of her students with Parkinson's were there. So were Buffalo Public School students with special needs. Teens with Aspire Center for Learning tapped their fingers and toes from their wheelchairs to the beat of the Kylie Minogue's "Dancing."

Tourists and locals joined in the fun, helping to underline that the City of Good Neighbors has a right to talk proud on these glorious days of summer.

"I so loved the spirit that everyone embodied. We were celebrating ourselves, all together, as a community," said Pegado, who danced professionally in her late teens and 20s. She became certified to teach the PDdance program the year after her father, Frederic Cadwell, was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2010.

The neurological disease impacts a part of the mid-brain that controls movement. It tends to progress slowly. Symptoms can include tremors (mostly in the hands), limb rigidity and gait and balance challenges, as well as depression and trouble speaking and sleeping. The severity varies from person to person.

Dance helps relieve and keep those symptoms at bay.

Pegado — who teaches several Parkinson's-related dance classes each week at other sites — has affirmed on Friday mornings at Canalside that it also soothes and strengthens those with all sorts of challenges, no matter how big or small.

"Cognitive and physical challenges of dance that benefit people with Parkinson's are of great value for people who need to keep active, who've never danced before, who used to dance," she said.

Dancers this summer have included tourists from around the world, pre-school students and several attendees in town two weeks ago to attend a conference at the Buffalo Naval Park. Kids from St. Mary's School for the Deaf attended recently — and signed "Let's Go Buffalo" as they participated.

Mary Rowe was among those with Aspire, which brought a contingent of those aged 15 to 21 to Canalside last weekend. The agency assists those with physical and intellectual challenges. Field trips are common on summer Fridays, "so everyone can enjoy themselves," Rowe said. "The kids have likes and dislikes, just like everybody else, and they like music and dancing."

As a child, Pegado trained under Norma Ferrara Gelose and participated in the Young Dancers’ Workshop. By age 16, she was principal dancer with Ken-Ton Ballet. She was the lead in “Giselle” and other productions during her last two years of local training before heading to college as a dance major.

She stopped dancing after she married, to raise a family, but reimmersed herself after her father fell ill and she had a chance meeting in New York City with a friend and former colleague who had danced with the National Ballet of Portugal. The friend told her about a Dance for PD program started a decade earlier by the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group. Intrigued, Pegado enlisted in the program's PDdance training and became certified to teach it.

"My whole goal is to offer movement that is satisfying to each individual, and to accept whatever movement someone can manifest," she said. "My mantra is, 'There's no wrong way to do it.' "

She calls the Canalside classes, in their fourth summer, "Everyone Can Dance."