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Connie Zhou, ‘20: Dance for Parkinson’s Disease Internship

Project Date:
Project Date: Summer 2019

My internship involved both administration—managing class registrations, creating email content, and developing a system to analyze attendance data for grant reporting—and assisting in up to 8 dance classes per week.

About the Project

This summer, I was supported by the Benenson Award as I worked as an intern at Dance for Parkinson’s Disease in Brooklyn, a non-profit dedicated to providing free dance classes to those with Parkinson’s and their caregivers. Through this experience, I further explored illness from a community perspective. As an administrator, I developed management and communication skills by sending weekly newsletters, processing class registrations, and managing databases. I also initiated and created a more efficient system to compute and analyze attendance data for grant reporting. By exploring the unique characteristics of this population, I was able to implement solutions to address barriers to access ranging from accounting for Internet illiteracy with phone calls and printouts to a researching ways to increase access to classes.

My administrative duties also include supporting the Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group and connecting various support systems with the local Parkinson’s community. This partnership has given me insight into the experience of Parkinson’s outside of the clinic. In addition to prior shadowing at the VA and teaching dance to underserved children with obesity, working with many older adults on Medicaid has shown me the diverse impacts of socioeconomic and environmental factors on health. These organizations inspire my commitment to advocacy and addressing health inequities by demonstrating that I can help people overcome these obstacles by creating adequate support systems.

As a teaching assistant, I have learned to be a more creative and inclusive instructor. Since teaching dance to people with Parkinson’s is as varied as their symptoms, innovative solutions are required to ensure that each class is fully adaptable for every person. In one class, I might translate the standing instructor’s flamboyant tango to a seated version with the same flair. In another, I might integrate dance and rhythm into the various methods of coaxing participants out of a freeze. I also learned to strike a balance between helping each participant and preserving their sense of independence and dignity in every class. In spite of the mistakes at the beginning, it has been an honor for me to gain the respect of participants as someone they can rely on physically and emotionally by learning to individualize every interaction.

With the end of my time in New York, I am continuing to volunteer and teach at the local Durham Dance for PD. I am also pursuing a senior thesis in Dance focusing on Dance for Parkinson’s Disease. Finally, as I consider the role of a future physician to be a leader in investigation, advocacy, and education, I am taking advantage of my time working with Dance for PD in both New York and Brooklyn to understand these responsibilities.

About the Artist

Connie Zhou is a senior from Pleasanton, California majoring in Biology and minoring in Psychology and Dance. She is planning to graduate with Distinction outside the major in Dance. For as long as she can remember she has been passionate about pursuing in medicine and dance. She has delved into science as a pre-medical student with immunology laboratory experience. As a dancer, she has trained from 4 and a half years old in a variety of styles. Whenever possible, she tries to combine these two passions. As the co-president of Dance Expressions and through interning with Dance for Parkinson’s Disease, she is able to do just that. On campus, Connie is also a student-athlete tutor, the VP of Collaboration for duARTS, and MEVP of Alpha Delta Pi Sorority. She is focused on championing access to dance for those, who due to a variety of factors, who would otherwise be unable to have access to training.