A study conducted by the University of Eastern Finland and the Stockholm Ballet Academy has revealed that performing and participating in a dance group holds significant meaning for individuals with Parkinson's disease, contributing to their identity and the ongoing process of constructing it. Participation in an expressive dance group fostered a strong sense of group identity among individuals with Parkinson's, which was rooted in dance and the shared experience of performing.

The dancers' experiences of being both observers and performers provided them with new ways to express themselves and be visible beyond their identities associated with the disease.

Previous research has largely focused on group dance interventions aimed at rehabilitation and social engagement in various dance forms. Promisingly, dance has been recognized as a form of adjunct therapy for those with Parkinson's disease, significantly enhancing balance, walking, and functional mobility among individuals with mild to moderate conditions. In contrast, the recent study, published in the Nordic Journal of Dance, explored the significance of performing art dance for individuals with Parkinson's. The study involved eight dancers from the Kompani Parkinson dance group, which performs both in its home country of Sweden and abroad. The group's dancers responded to a questionnaire, and some of them also participated in focus group interviews.

The dancers highlighted the importance of solidarity, shared responsibilities, peer support, acceptance, and trust as essential elements of their group experience. The research found that group membership and group identity also facilitated the development of the dancers' personal identities.

"Within the group, trust and social support were provided in a way that didn't rely on cognitive or physical capabilities, but on bodily expression. For participants, this was novel and significant," notes Hanna Pohjola, University Researcher and Docent in Multidisciplinary Health and Well-being Research.

This newly formed group identity offered individuals with Parkinson's disease the chance to construct a bodily identity centered around art rather than illness. While the disease might limit bodily functions, artistic expression imposed no boundaries or limitations on the dancers. As a result, the dancers discovered new aspects of themselves.

"Belonging to the group and performing also allowed for a changed perception of oneself. Dance and expressiveness were felt as an unrestricted entity, enabling growth despite potential limitations," adds Pohjola.

The study is part of the "Narrative Dance in Life Transitions" project, funded by the Kone Foundation. The project explores the experiential and socio-psychological consequences of dance in various life transitions.