April is Parkinson’s and Autism Awareness Month – See what Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is doing

Did you know that April is Parkinson’s and Autism Awareness Month?  These are conditions that are very prevalent, limiting, and discouraging.  The search is on to learn more about both conditions with research directed toward causality and management.


Interestingly, 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of Parkinson’s disease.  Organizations involved in research toward a cure include the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, NIHSenior Healththe Mayo Clinic  and  University hospitals all over the country.


Approaching the studio, Photo: B. Keer

One of my friends was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s and was told she had probably had this condition for many years.  About twice as many men are affected as women.  Some treatments receiving attention at this time include: Cycling (How Patients Are Using Cycling to Slow Down Parkinson’s How Patients Are Using Cycling to Slow Down Parkinson’s), Rock Steady Boxing  and Dance.



I was surprised to learn that in Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, the company whose performances Chicago Splash Magazine journalists love to review, also offers programs focused on benefitting individuals with Parkinson’s disease and Autism.   Curious about these programs, I joined my friend so she could experience the Parkinson’s Project and I could also find out more about this and the Autism Project


We headed to the studio on Jackson Street in the West Loop and found parking fairly easily.  Approaching the studio, the clean lines of the building were exciting and uplifting.  We were buzzed in and greeted cheerfully and directed to the waiting room, where we were greeted by extremely friendly class participants.  People were chatting with one another, sharing experiences and information. I was wondering about the difference between Physical Therapy and the movement in this dance program and asked Eileen, a very friendly class participant, what she thought.  She said her understanding was that PT was more individual and intensive.


1-Michelle Modrzejewski, Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Soon,the  teacher, Michelle Modrzejewski greeted the class members.  Her smile alone was curative, encouraging and uplifting.


The class was lead into a large open room with folding chairs arranged so that participants had space to move.  Michelle demonstrated movements to the sounds of easy rhythmic music.  The movement is not focused on technique but rather on body energy, space and time.  Rhythm is very important. After the class ended, my friend felt that this experience gave her more confidence about moving in space, and reduced her fear of falling.


Following the demonstration

Michelle’s background as a dance major who danced, choreographed, and taught, made her the perfect person to take on the adaptive dance programs three years ago. She is currently the Community Programs Manager.


Sarah Cullen Fuller

The Hubbard Street Parkinson’s Project is the oldest in the Midwest and was initiated by Sarah Cullen Fuller whose amazing background includes performance and academics.  She has taught and performed all over the country. Retiring from performance, she is a full-time faculty member in Loyola University Chicago’s Dance Department and the founding Teaching Artist of the Parkinson’s Project.  She shared the following information with me.


B.K.  What was the date that the Parkinson's Project began?


S.C.F. The Parkinson's Project actually piloted in June of 2008, offering a six week pilot program, and then launched officially in the Fall of 2008.


B. K.   Are there any other programs of this kind offered in and around Chicago?


S.C.F. Not to my knowledge.


B.K.  If one should want to teach in this program, where is training available?


S.C.F. I received my training with the Mark Morris Dance For Parkinson's program back in 2008 and I know that there are extensive opportunities to work within their methodologies through training workshops throughout the year. HSDC has offered Professional Development workshops, as well, that include Adaptive Dance Practices rooted in the pedagogical underpinnings of the Parkinson's Project. There are some very exciting things happening in Physically Integrated Dance Practices throughout the country, including the National Convening on Physically Integrated Dance, the recent Disability as Spectacle Conference at UCLA, the implementation of course offerings at Loyola University Chicago that aim to explore adaptive and physically integrated dance practices, as well as numerous performing companies, individual artists, and scholarly research on the intersection of dance and disability. HSDC has long been a part of inclusive dance practices, and there are several granting organizations like 3 Arts/UIC Bodies of Work and The Chicago Dancemakers Forum that have been working to expand opportunities for artists with disabilities. 


Sarah Cullen Fuller demonstrates

Sarah also shared that “Founding this program has been by far one of the most wonderful things to have ever happened to me. The dancers are truly extended family and I cannot imagine my life without them.”


Michelle Modrzejewski after class, Photo: B.Keer

Michelle balances her time between teaching and managing Jubbard Street’s diverse in-school contracted partnerships, the Autism Project, the Youth Dance Program’s ChoreoLab and other community outreach in addition to the Parkinson’s Project.

The Autism Project uses a specific curriculum to teach dance technique and the choreographic process through developmentally appropriate methods. 


One of the schools where Michelle has a program in place is Beard School.  A Chicago Splash journalist works there and shared this story from his colleague. Julie Pomerantz, a special education teacher at Beard Elementary School, has seen first-hand the benefit Hubbard Street Dance has made for the children. She describes the troupe as being “flexible and amazing” in that they work hard to accommodate each and every child’s needs. In doing so, Ms. Pomerantz feels that they have been successful instilling the “love of dance” in the students they serve.

 The dance troupe comes to Beard once a week and consists of just a few dancers.


About The Autism Project (TAP)


More information about Autism Awareness Month



Class reaching

I have a new perspective of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and have increased my awareness of Parkinson’s disease and Autism largely due to their outreach.


 Photos: Courtesy of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago unless otherwise noted.

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