The message arrived in my email box: Calling All Members of the Parkinson’s Community who love to dance and move, you are invited to create a video of a crane dance.  Now, who could resist an invitation like that? Our community of Parkinson’s dancers would create a dance and video to be included in a compilation video of international crane dances to be shown at the 5th World Parkinson’s Congress in Kyoto, Japan 2019.

The Crane Dance project has been a series of ongoing delights, surprises, and ever-expanding admiration for the dancers I work with. Bits of a conversation I heard from various dancers as we started class one day give a flavor of the goings on through the course of the dance making. 

“It’s fantastic, this work. It’s helping me to look so much more closely at things – to really see. The videos I’ve watched, the dance I’m watching and making is helping me to notice and see a new beauty in things”.

“I know what you mean. I’ve always liked tinkering with things – fixing things, so they work better – or work at all. Now I’m fixing dance steps so that they say what I want them to.”

And another dancer said, “It’s funny. When  I was at a meeting in San Diego last week, and there was a discussion about the Banner Neuro wellness program. One of the doctors at the meeting said that there was a lot of good work going on there with dance and all the programs they offer. I felt happy to be a member. Now we’ll be part of a dance that so many people can enjoy. That’s a perfect way to be famous.”

And from a dancer in our group who danced and performed for many years and learned a traditional Korean Crane dance years ago from a Buddhist nun, friend, dancer,  “My friend who taught me a Crane Dance is now dealing with chronic pain and is unable to dance. I told her about our project, and she lit up. She said, ‘I am so happy you will dance for the cranes. I will think of you and be with you in spirit.’ So now we carry her spirit in our dance.”

Another added, “I think what I like the most is getting to dance together and getting to choose moves for the part of the dance that is our own dance phrase. I like the way we make the moves fit us and show what we want to tell. I love this. When I’m home, I try out different ideas about my phrase.”

All that in the five minutes before class began, as we sat together, chatting and using spiky balls to roll out and warm up as everyone gathered for class.

Our project started with nine dancers – three had to drop out along the way. The continuing dancers missed them – and stepped in to keep their ideas alive within the dance we made and to expand their own work.  The dance had to be under two minutes. No problem, we’d been making one-minute solos in class for a while now. These dancers were ready and involved in every aspect of our project from music selection to the generation of movement ideas and creation of personal movement phrases.

Our process included watching videos of cranes, having conversations about cranes, asking questions;  “What ideas or images do you associate with cranes? What do you notice about their flight and behaviors? What interests you about them”?

We thought about how those ideas could be expressed through action. We had music and sounds to guide us – swoosh – and images in mind. We were becoming crane experts!

 We explored what we had observed about cranes; a lift, a hop, a rise, fold, stretch… ) and then played with abstracting those actions, making them bigger, slower, or repeated, for example. We played with the idea of suspension and started to develop a vocabulary of crane movement. From that vocabulary, we developed a unison phrase to start us off.   

  We would begin the piece dancing the same movement phrase, establishing ourselves as a community of cranes. The ending of the unison phrase allowed for variations in timing and the wing lifting movements that echoed through the crane flock. 

 I loved discovering along the way that a group of cranes has many collective nouns, including a “construction”, “dance“, “sedge”, “siege”, and a  “swoop” of cranes.


Everyone then developed their own, individual movement phrase. We were individuals within a larger community, after all. We had explored lots of ideas through conversation, movement improvisation, draft, and revision. The basic structure of the phrase included a held SHAPE,   transition moves into a new SHAPE, then transition moves into a third, final SHAPE.  That phrase was repeated twice. Variations were welcomed. 

Lastly, we wanted the piece to end with a sense of hopefulness, a sense of taking flight, of moving “onward”. This project was about the process every bit as much as it was about the finished product. It gave us a chance to explore images, ideas, and expressiveness within a community of dancers. And so, we flew. The participants were choreographers, discovering and sequencing their own moves to embody ideas. They were dancers dancing. They built connections together having bonded through the process of exploring, supporting, laughing, working hard, and making something for themselves that could be shared with others.  As one dancer said at the end of recording the piece, “It is always fun to come to dance class and to dance – but this project gave the dance we made a special reason – a purpose”. These cranes soared.

         Alison Marshall 

 Banner Neuro Wellness Center Parkinsons Dance, Gilbert, Az

The PD Crane Dance Project

Michael C. Hughes photography

Alan Fitzgerald Art Intersection Gallery

Michael Nyman (music) The Heart Asks Pleasure First

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