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My year on the dancefloor

How do you deal with a diagnosis of Parkinson's? Dancing is probably the last thing on your mind…

Parkinson’s & the Tango Effect is the story of an incredible year in the life of a woman with Parkinson’s. It began with a tango lesson and grew into an exploration of the healing potential of the dance.

Quirky, intimate and unashamedly literary, the book takes an unflinching look at the dark side but also at reasons to celebrate. It builds on research on the impact of dance on Parkinson's symptoms & takes it a stage further, with a behind-the-scenes record of private lessons and contributions from tango teachers. It documents the emotional and social benefits of the dance and its impact on the quality of life.

This book is my story, a story of learning to accept myself as I am but also refusing to be defined by Parkinson’s. It’s about how I found a way of living with illness that is liberating. It’s the story of an extraordinary dance, both exotic and accessible, its history, its music. It’s the story of what happens when the two come together. And it’s the story of a sustaining and enduring friendship.

Parkinson’s & the Tango Effect challenges our perceptions of disability. It is essential reading for those with a professional interest in dance and Parkinson's, and for researchers in the field. It's also a book for the ordinary reader, for those living with a chronic condition, and for the tango and Parkinson's communities worldwide.

Endorsed by

After 30 years as an English teacher in secondary schools in London, the north of England and Mexico City, the diagnosis of Parkinson’s proved my escape route, first to Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge and then, via their Creative Writing MA and with the help of an Arts Council Escalator Award, to Argentina, to work on a novel exploring Argentina’s disappeared. Closer to home, I was also keen to explore our relationship with the natural world. As writer in residence at Cambridge University Botanic Garden, again with the support of Arts Council England, I produced a short story collection, Writing the Garden. At present I am working on The Station Master, a novel with a Bulgarian setting based on our responses to the refugee crisis. The Station Master won this year’s Adventures in Fiction Spotlight competition for debut novelists. I have had short fiction and non-fiction pieces published and am working towards publication of the novels. Meanwhile, Parkinson’s and the Tango Effect is the book closest to my heart. It has survived several major revisions and I am delighted that it is at last coming up for air with Unbound. A northerner by birth and habit, I have now made my home in Cambridge. For further information and a varied and substantial blog history go to my website.

FIVE: MAY

GRACE & FAVOUR

So what is it about tango that has the power to transform? Sceptics often add a second question: ‘Is it just..?’ Answer: no, it’s not just – the rhythm, or the music, or any one aspect which makes it different from aerobics or cycling, or even salsa or ballroom. I’ve read much of the research documentation, which describes and records the impact tango seems to have on an individual with Parkinson’s, and in some cases speculates about why and how this works. From my own experience, I have felt how each feature of the dance hits a particular Parkinson’s spot, with dramatic results.

Take grace. I’m no football fan, but watching an expert manage a ball for ten or twelve paces is infinitely satisfying: that combination of timing, poise, agility, fluency, dodge and weave, halt and go – wonderful, especially as these are skills I will never share. The grace of the tanguero is akin to that of the practised midfielder, except that I am not talking about professional dancers here. Of course, in performance, we enjoy these qualities, along with the complex motifs and patterns that ordinary mortals will never match. But what often draws that gasp of delight from those watching is a quieter moment, perhaps a hiatus before a step or a second or two where the balance of the follower is deliberately upset and then restored. Moments such as these are the stuff of the milonga. Any evening, almost every couple will glimpse perfection, that instant where everything comes together in the best possible way. And when you’re not on the floor yourself, look around: at every turn, amongst the clumsy and over-ambitious, fat or thin, skippers or gliders, shufflers or stalkers, the surprise of beauty.

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Getting there!

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Well it's 25 days since the launch and, thanks to all who've pledged their support so far, Parkinson's & the Tango Effect is well on the way to achieving its target. I've been surprised and delighted by the way readers have got behind the project, by the generosity of friends and the interest of strangers. This probably shouldn't come as a surprise: the media are currently noisy with exercise regimes…

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