Coordinated by program manager Jody White Van De Klippe [B.A.Sc. (Hon.), CLSt. (Dip)], HCB’s D4P classes are among a growing number of therapeutic dance-intervention programs within Canada. The founders and Artistic Directors of HCB, Melania Pawliw and Max Ratevosian, provide expert choreography and instruction for the classes; both are classically trained, and have enjoyed international ballet careers. In addition, an accredited music therapist, Rachael Finnerty (MTA MMT MA), is advising the McMaster team on the use of music with respect to patient psychology, motivation, emotion and well-being.

Typically, fall, spring, and summer semesters consist of six classes, occurring every other week. Classes take place in a spacious community hall, and demand for the program is growing. Biweekly classes create two problems. Firstly, the classes’ 14-day separation affects the social benefits of the program. The ability of people to build supportive communities depends critically on the time interval between their social interactions—too long and the formation of empathetic relationships is reduced. Second, the program’s biweekly structure disrupts the positive feedback created through regular dance practice. Both of these issues can be aided with the dance technology we are developing, thereby supporting the PD community and the broader aims of the program.

In 2017-18, a pilot study was undertaken investigating clinical and neurophysiological effects of music and dance on Parkinson’s. To assist with this study, we were pleased to partner with Dr. Rick Paulseth, Director of the Movement Disorders Clinic at St. Peter’s Hospital, and Dr. Mike Noseworthy, Director of Imaging Physics and Engineering, Imaging Research Centre, St. Joseph’s Healthcare. Six PD patients underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and clinical assessments prior to and following four weeks of music and dance intervention using our technology. MRI investigated neurological attributes associated with PD such as brain-iron content, microvascular perfusion, and cortical thinning. Using the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale, clinical assessments investigated the effects of the intervention on mentation, daily living, and motor abilities.


Our technology-based activities are designed for everyday home use, thereby bridging the gap between HCB’s D4P classes. The system uses a low-cost motion-sensing camera, Microsoft’s KinectTM, which is linked to a computer and monitor, displaying a dance avatar. Users’ movements are input into the computer via the camera. Each activity is based on a dance from the main D4P program; the aim is to complement the instruction participants receive in class. Choreography is designed to provide a wide variety of movements, such as joint rotation, quick and smooth movements, and rhythmic clapping.

Version #1 of the system (developed summer 2014) superimposed user-movement data onto videos of the dancer; the aim was for a user to match their hand movements to those of the dancer. The system was field tested in the homes of people with PD in late summer 2014. Potential issues were identified, including lack of interactivity; user feedback was used to guide subsequent development.