‘The ballet movements have helped me to cope with my condition. It is 90 minutes when I can forget about my illness and work with incredible people.’ – Jon, diagnosed with Parkinson’s six years ago
For its founder and driving force, Donna Schoenherr, the Move into Wellbeing (MiW) charity is a very personal project. ‘My Dad lived with Parkinson’s for 30 years and, during the course of his illness, I saw at first hand the wonderful dance therapies available in the USA to those suffering with neurological conditions. That was my inspiration.’
MiW has been running dance, movement, and exercise classes since 2014 and, this year, Donna and her dedicated team were recipients of the prestigious Atul Pathak Community Award. ‘Our objective is to help those with Parkinson’s and other mobility restrictions to improve coordination and flexibility and, by so doing, boost their confidence and wellbeing,’ she explains. ‘No knowledge of dance is needed, all exercises can be performed seated and there is no right or wrong: we just encourage everyone to have fun and move within their physical limitations.’
Born and raised in Rochester, New York, Donna enjoyed a highly successful career as a professional dancer, later branching out into choreography and teaching. Her husband’s job relocation 24 years ago prompted the trans-Atlantic move. ‘I fell in love with Chiswick the first time I drove down the High Road – and we’ve never left.’
Five years ago, with her adult dance tuition company (Ballet4Life) well established and her son grown up, Donna decided the time as right to launch her own therapy project in Chiswick.
‘I put together a group of teachers and sent them to learn the basic methodology from the founder of Dance for Parkinson’s in New York. We then created our own programme: the core structure of the classes is similar but we have our own take on the content and choice of music. For example, one teacher is Italian and she loves to use opera with very expressive gestural movements.’
MiW holds two weekly classes in Chiswick at St Peter’s Church Hall and two at the Danehurst Centre in Brentford (subsidised by the Council, those are free to Hounslow residents). The first class for newcomers is free (afterwards they cost £8) for participants and Donna herself attends and oversees every one and takes over the teaching if someone is ill or on holiday.
‘We have people aged from late 40s to 92 attending,’ says Donna. ‘Before each class we assess the level of support needed for each person. Some of the dancing is improvised, some is with a partner and some as a group; most importantly, everyone interacts and that also applies to the carers – it is fantastic opportunity for them to meet and build an informal support network.’
MiW depends on grants from foundations and private and corporate donations. ‘My aim is to not to charge for classes,’ adds Donna. ‘You can choose our page on wonderful.org, which is a fee-free donation system, and we’re also on Smile Amazon – we receive a contribution on every purchase. And, if you can spare the time, help is always appreciated at classes and socials, welcoming people and making them feel at home.
‘We are the only organisation offering these classes in West London. It is just so rewarding to see the enjoyment of our participants and the difference we make to their lives.’
Move into Wellbeing (MiW)
St. Peter’s Church Hall,
Chiswick W4 1BB