Archives October 2015

Fighting Parkinson’s with Dance | Rafi Eldor at TEDx


Rafi Eldor is a Professor of Economics from Israel who received some life changing and potentially crippling news in 2008. When he was with a work colleague one day they noticed that he was walking strangely and that the left side of his body was not behaving normally. Eldor then went to consult his doctor and a neurologist, and it was then that his world was turned upside down: he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Doctors told him that he had five normal years left to live, and beyond that he would need supervision and care.

In a 2015 TEDx talk, seven years after that diagnosis, Eldor described his unique response to living with the debilitating condition. He shared how he was in denial about his condition for almost two years, until one day he looked himself in the mirror and decided he needed to take action. Aside from a course of medicine for treating Parkinson’s, he began searching for alternative therapies. He tried swimming, walking and Tai Chi before realizing that he should try one of the things he enjoys most: dancing. After a tough first class, where Eldor found that his mind was willing but his body was not able, he knew that he was in for a challenge, and this suited him perfectly. In his talk, the Harvard graduate stated that he is not afraid of hard work so he applied himself to mastering ballroom dancing.

Parkinson’s disease sufferers often have hunched postures and shortened steps. Rafi Eldor found that dancing was the perfect remedy to these issues, as it promoted a tall and strong posture with longer steps. Dance requires coordination, repetition and learning from mirroring instructors — all excellent ways to curb the degenerative effects of the disease.

Eldor capped off his talk by performing a moving dance number with his friend and dance partner Anna Aronov. He chose to dance to the song Sky Fall, as this signified the moment when he learned his world had been turned upside down. At the end the audience rose as one to applaud his inspiring story of bravery and determination.


Treating Parkinson’s Disease with Ballroom Dancing

Rafi Eldor dancing with Anna Aharonov

Parkinson’s disease is a cruel neurodegenerative disorder that can affect anybody. It impacts the central nervous system and this in turn affects the motor skills of those with the condition. Movement related issues are the first signs of the onset of the condition: these can include slowness of movement, shaking and having trouble walking. Advanced stage symptoms can include cognitive and behavioural problems, whilst various damaging side-effects such as depression, lack of sleep and emotional issues can ensue. Surprisingly little is known about the causes of Parkinson’s, or why the dopamine-generating cells in the region of the midbrain die off. Although there is, as yet, no known cure for the disease, there are various treatment options available for patients from drugs through to alternative therapies. One of the most fascinating areas of therapy that has emerged in recent years is treating Parkinson’s with dance. Professor of Economics at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, Rafi Eldor, suffers from the disease himself and is one of the most passionate advocates for using dance as a form of treatment.

After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s by doctors a few years ago, Rafi Eldor was informed that he could expect to live for five years before requiring nursing. In his efforts to research an alternative form of treatment and a way to beat the disorder he discovered dance. He began using ballroom dancing as a way of coping with the condition, and which has enabled him to slow down the onset of the condition and continue to live a normal life.

Dance as Therapy

Rafi Eldor dancing with Anna Aharonov

Rafi Eldor dancing with Anna Aharonov

Harnessing the power of mind and body is something that ancient societies would practice in all elements of their lives. Religious dances, fertility dances, war dances and childbirth dances were rituals that were firmly integrated into society in the older days. Dance as therapy is not a new concept these days either: it’s deployed in hospitals and care centers around the world to address a wide variety of conditions, including Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Dance for Parkinson’s disease is an important new line of treatment because it addresses essential areas like movement, balance, spatial awareness, coordination and rhythm. These are the critical areas that Parkinson’s sufferers want to address, so dance offers a perfect medium through which patients can work on these skills but also enjoy the social element and other pleasures dancing involves.

People with Parkinson’s have motor problems that affect voluntary movements as opposed to instinctive motion. Although the science behind it is unknown, the elements of dancing to music, following a teacher and developing muscle memory with dance sequences helps to treat the disease.

Educating the Public

Professor Rafi Eldor has worked to educate the public and share his story so that others can learn and benefit from the experience he has been through. In a 2015 TEDx conference at Israel’s IDC, Eldor shared his story with the hundreds in attendance and performed a live ballroom dance number which received a standing ovation. He is not the only person working to promote dance as therapy for the disorder. Dance for PD in Brooklyn, New York is one of the world’s most prominent organizations working in this area. In 15 years they have expanded to six studios in New York with affiliate groups operating in 13 countries.

Finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease is a cause that many dedicated researchers are attempting to tackle every day in labs around the world. Treating people with the condition is something that is tangible and happens now. Dance therapy is an exciting form of alternative treatment that is is producing real benefits for patients from Israel to the US and beyond.


Rafi Eldor – Dancing through Parkinson

Rafi Eldor dancing with Anna Aharonov

The Practical Economist

Rafi Eldor dancing with Anna Aharonov

Rafi Eldor dancing with Anna Aharonov

Rafi Eldor is one of Israel’s leading economists. After graduating with a PhD from Harvard, Eldor introduced into the Israeli academia many innovations in the way of teaching economics. He devotedly advocates a hands-on approach which requires students to practice economics and trade and not merely learn about them from the text books. For Eldor this hands-on approach is more than a way of teaching, but a way of life. When Eldor was diagnosed with Parkinson Disease he confronted his condition with the same attitude which he practices in his professional career.

Confronting Parkinson

After being diagnosed with Parkinson, Eldor testifies that he took the news with great pain. After consulting a specialist he decided to turn to sports to confront his condition and contrast its limiting symptoms with movement and physical action. After trying several sportive activities such as Tai-Chi and swimming, Eldor decided to try dancing. Eldor notes in humor that at the time nothing seemed so far apart from his stature as a famous economist than dance, but he enjoyed the popular TV show, “Dancing with Stars”, and decided to give it a try. When he went to the first class his partner told him that they will have to dance for miles in order for Eldor to learn the Cha-Cha dance. But, as he says, he likes challenges, and practice is his middle name. That was the beginning of his journey to become a semi-professional dancer and a source of inspiration for many who confront the Parkinson disease. After some practice not only did Eldor managed to master the art of ballroom dancing while maintaining his job at the academia, but also to confront the symptoms of the Parkinson successfully while beating all specialists’ predictions.

Dance as a Remedy

Dance as a way of confronting the limiting symptoms of Parkinson is supported by extensive research. The logic of it is fitting with Eldor’s attitude towards economics as an academic field, as dance is a hands-on approach to treating Parkinson. While in the past Parkinson patients were only treated with pills and limited physical activities, dance challenges the patient to do everything the condition tends to limit. Parkinson patients’ muscles are often stiff, they find it hard to perform seemingly simple motoric tasks, and many suffer from low morale. Dance is the antithesis of these symptoms. The dancer practices control over his body, and learns how to move accurately according to the rhythm, which exercises the dancer’s body movement and control. He also has to be flexible, which exercises agility. And finally the music, social interaction, and vibrant atmosphere are a great morale-boost for those who are burdened by the disease. Not only do all these merits resonate with Eldor, but many dance institutions now offer special courses designated for Parkinson patients.

Spreading the Word

The unique character of Eldor, a famous economists who managed to confront Parkinson with dance has made him a source of inspiration, as well as a celebrity of sorts. These days, along with his career as a professor, Eldor dedicates himself to spreading the remedy of dance to the wide public. Eldor actively maintains a Facebook page and a blog dedicated to the issue, he regularly performs in dance festivals around the world (often with his famous dance partner Anna Aharonov), and held a TED talk about his personal experience, inspiring others to start dancing.


Rafi Eldor – An Inspiring Economist

Raffi Eldor


Educational and Professional Landmarks

Rafael (Rafi) Eldor was born in 1953 in Tel Aviv, Israel. After completing his military service as an air traffic controller, he enrolled for an undergraduate degree in Economics at Tel Aviv University. After his graduation he received a scholarship to study for his Masters and PhD at Harvard University, from which he graduated after also taking Finance courses at MIT. After assuming brief academic staff positions in Columbia, Boston, and Tel Aviv universities, Eldor went on to work in the public and private sectors, where he consulted various firms and banks. In 1994, he moved to Herzliya to take part in the ambitious project of the then new academic institution, the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC). Eldor was responsible for the co-founding of the Economics school at the IDC, for which he laid the pedagogical foundations and where he serves as a senior staff member to this day.

Practical and Innovative Approach to Economics

Eldor’s approach to economics was inspired by some of the most innovative individuals in the field. During his studies at the Economics School of Harvard University, he was taught by prominent lecturers such as the Robert C. Merton, Michael Spence, and Kenneth Arrow, all of whom are Nobel Prize winners in the field. All three are regarded as the most innovative American economists of their time. This education is reflected in Rafi Eldor’s own teaching and career. During his time at Tel Aviv University he developed a new attitude towards the teaching of economics. Throughout his career, he has been a keen advocate of the hybrid teaching method that combines theory and practice. In Tel Aviv University, for example, Eldor designed a course about financial future markets, which provides students with theoretical knowledge as well as actual involvement in the field. This has remains one of the most popular courses in Tel Aviv University even today, thirty years after Eldor designed its syllabus. Additionally, while employed by Tel Aviv University, he published many books that had a significant impact on the Israeli economy, and the way Economics is taught. Eldor maintained his hybrid approach and influence in the IDC as well. As one of the founders of the Center’s Economics school, he orchestrated the foundation of a trade room where students can experience financial trading first hand: through hands-on experience and not merely from the text books. For students who excel at this program, he also teaches a course that allows them to be responsible for the management of an investment portfolio, profits from which are donated to underprivileged students.

Professional Experience and Social Contribution

Aside from his academic career, and as appropriate to his approach to economics as a practical discipline, Rafi Eldor also has extensive professional experience outside of academia. In the late 80s he started advising different institutions such as banks and different financial companies. More recently, Eldor served on different financial companies’ boards of directors, and advised on stock market public offerings. Moreover, he is a regular contributor to Israeli newspapers’ financial issues, and between 1993 and 1998 maintained a weekly column in the newspaper “Maariv”. He volunteers as financial advisor to the “Israel Cancer Association”, and is also known for his creative approach to his own personal battle with Parkinson’s disease through the medium of dance.

Types of Ballroom Dances

Ballroom Dances

Ballroom dancing refers to a form of dance in which couples move in accordance with patterned dancing steps. It is comprised of two major categories, namely Western and Latin style. The Western style is perhaps the more traditional form of ballroom dancing. It refers to a flowing form in which the couple is constantly moving in a circular fashion around the dance floor. The Latin style refers to a more rhythm-oriented form of dance, in which the couple’s placing is rather fixed and their moves are more energetic and sharp. Each of these forms is further divided into several sub-categories.

Western style ballroom dancing includes primarily the Waltz, the Foxtrot, the Tango, and the Quickstep:

• The Waltz is arguably the most familiar form of ballroom, originating as a folk dance. It is characterized by flowing, swaying movements, and a rise and fall pattern. The dancers circle the dance floor in a counter-clock wise movement.
• The Foxtrot became extremely popular in the 20th century, partially thanks to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, who incorporated it into their films. In its smooth and round-the-dance-floor movements it is similar to the Waltz, although it incorporates quicker steps and more flexibility.
• The Quickstep is an even faster version of the Foxtrot. Although it is considered highly energetic and quite difficult to master, the Foxtrot remains an elegant and flowing form of ballroom dancing.
• The Tango is a passionate, sensual form of ballroom dancing. Some forms of Tango are dramatic, including sharp body and head movements, whereas others tend to be more subtle. The Tango originated in South America around the late 19th century.

Ballroom Dances

Latin style ballroom dances include mainly the Swing, the Rumba, the Cha Cha, the Mambo and Salsa:

• Swing is the fastest form of dance within the Latin category. It incorporates many kicks, knee-bending and lifting, swirls and other fast leg movements. The swing is unique in two respects: firstly, the couple is not required to hold each other or to be as close to each other as in other dances. Secondly, the accompanying music can vary in style from rock n’roll to Boogie-woogie, as long as it stays true to its lively, upbeat rhythm.
• The Cha Cha is a vigorous, flirtatious, energetic dance. It requires free hip motion, and small, quick steps. Cha Cha is danced to the sounds of happy, lively music — which is usually (but not necessarily) Cuban.
• The Mambo is a close relative of the Cha Cha, because of its high energy level and fun, lively spirit. It is characterized by backward and forward steps and distinctive, often sensual hip movements. Mambo music varies widely in rhythm and instruments, which usually include bells.
• The Rumba is mostly identified by the coy, teasing movements of the female dancer, and the seductive, advancing motions of the male dancer. It is the slowest form of dance within the Latin style. Its music originated in Africa, but today it includes country, rock, blues, and other popular music styles.
• Salsa is a late form of Latin dance, primarily influenced by the Cha Cha and the Mambo. While most forms of Latin style focus on hip movements, the Salsa incorporates more above-the-waist technique.

The many forms of ballroom dancing go beyond the list above. But despite their diverse nature, the dances are unified by one dominant characteristic – they are all partner dances. None of the forms can be danced alone or in an unsynchronized manner.

What Is Ballroom Dancing?


‘Ballroom’ is a category of dancing which includes roughly a dozen types dance within it. In general, what unites these dance forms under the ballroom umbrella is that they are performed in a large hall, by several couples who follow similar routines and steps. This genre is defined by its classical overtones, with Waltz arguably being the most famous type of ballroom dance.



Ballroom dancing- became popular among the social elites in the sixteenth century

Ballroom dancing became popular among the social elites in the sixteenth century, but got its contemporary form in the early twentieth century. Two factors made it popular also among the wider population. Firstly, the music that accompanied ballroom dancing had changed: while in its early days the accompanying tunes were primarily classical, in the twentieth century more popular and accessible music, including jazz, entered the ballroom. Secondly, high-profile Hollywood actors such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers frequently included ballroom dance sequences in their films, thus popularizing this form of dance.

Contemporary Styles

These days, ballroom dancing is divided into two separate categories: international ballroom and international Latin, which includes more Latin-based music and dress. However, the genre as a whole is anything but unified and undiversified. Ballroom includes many different dances, ranging from the classical Waltz to the fast-paced Latin Cha-Cha and the intense Tango.

Despite its current accessibility to anyone who would like to take part, ballroom dancing also has a professional branch which includes competitions and tournaments. Although yet to be performed in the Olympic Games, professional ballroom competitions are numerous and require a high-level of skill and practice.

Dance as Community and Individual Therapy


Ballroom includes many different dances

The design of ballroom dancing is possibly what makes it so popular among people in so many different parts of the world. From the outset, it was more than simply a dance activity: although it is seemingly performed by separate couples, the dancing happens simultaneously by several different couples who move around each other, adhering to the same music and dance rules. This synchronicity transforms ballroom dancing into an effective social experience, which brings people and communities closer together with through the force of music and movement. It is a shared experience, which incorporates both intimacy between a single couple and the feeling of a vibrant community.

The merits of this activity have not gone unnoticed by medical practitioners. Nowadays, ballroom dancing is also very popular as a therapeutic tool for people suffering from conditions such as Parkinson’s disease — because of its social appeal, together with its low physical impact and the need to practice control over one’s body. It may be learned quite easily by anybody, and does not have any limitations in terms of age, weight, or strength. However, despite its seemingly low entry requirements, ballroom dancing grants the dancer a lot of strength and cognitive development. That’s why nowadays more and more Parkinson’s patients around the world complement their conventional treatment with regular ballroom sessions at medical dance institutions, which allow them to benefit from the practice of controlled physical movements while having fun.

How is Parkinson’s disease being diagnosed?


Making a Diagnosis for Parkinson’s Diseasebrain_scan

Parkinson’s disease is characterized by neurological problems related to the production of dopamine. However, there are clear symptoms of the disease that include things like rigidity, resting tremor, slow movement and even balance problems. From the onset, these types of symptoms appear as mild, but increase in intensity and severity as the disease progresses. Once the disease has progressed to a point where it interferes with everyday activities, a neurologist is usually called in to help. With Parkinson’s disease, symptoms often start on one side of the body before moving over and affecting the other side. It should be pointed out that there is no definitive test – EEG, blood test or brain scan – that can diagnose this disease.

Instead, doctors need to conduct a full medical workup by way of an extensive neurological exam. A good way to evaluate the presence of the disease is the patient’s response to medication used for treating it. Medical experts advise that the right diagnosis is made before medication is administered. 4 years ago, in 2011, the FDA gave the green light to DaTscan (an imaging technique) that allows detailed images of the dopamine system in a person’s brain to be captured. It should be noted that there is no fail-safe way to test for Parkinson’s because many of the symptoms that it exhibits are shared with other neurological disorders. And if the wrong diagnosis is made, it can have disastrous repercussions.

Volunteering for Clinical Research

Presently, there is no cure for the disease. However many treatments are making their way through laboratories and clinical research is needed to prove their efficacy. Parkinson’s itself is typically not considered fatal, but it can create conditions that can prove fatal for sufferers. Loss of balance, choking and associated conditions need to be carefully watched. Since a cure does not exist, clinical research needs to be undertaken which connects volunteers and clinical trials needing them. Of course a comprehensive medical history of the patient must match with the requirements of the clinical trials. This is but one of many ways that patients can get involved in their own treatment program.

Living with Parkinson’s Disease

While no cure exists, there are treatments that can make life more bearable for sufferers of Parkinson’s. Medication is used to treat many of the symptoms of the disease, and to make them less pronounced so that daily life is more tolerable. However, over time the medication becomes ineffective and has negative side-effects. Various other treatment regimens have been suggested – some less desirable than others, including deep brain stimulation. But one of the most widely recommended treatment regimens is physical activity. People with Parkinson’s are now taking to social activities like dancing in increasing numbers, and the literature tends to support the notion that dance is beneficial in many ways. The mental and physical stimulation of music and dance has a profound effect on the health and well-being of Parkinson’s patients.

What is Parkinson’s disease?

parkinson disease

Understanding Parkinson’s Disease and How to Cope with It


Parkinson’s is a disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain that manufacture dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for how our brains feel pleasure. People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) have low levels of dopamine and consequently have all sorts of maladies, including rigidity in their muscles, slurred speech, a different walk and tremors of the hands, head or other parts of the body. Notable celebrities who have Parkinson’s include Michael J. Fox and Mohammad Ali.

There is no cure for the disease, but there are lifestyle changes that can be adopted to relieve the symptoms to make life more pleasurable and rewarding. PD typically affects the motor system (movement of the body) and it is the decreased production of dopamine cells which does this. The disease can advance to cognitive function, with dementia occurring in the advanced stages. Medication eventually stops working since dopaminergic neurons decrease in number. The main symptoms of the disease are neuropsychiatric, motor, sleep disturbances and impaired senses.

Dancing, Live Music and Parkinson ’s Disease

Many successful initiatives centered around dancing and Parkinson’s have been reported in recent years. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that people living with PD can benefit tremendously from the stimulation of physical movement of dancing and the wellness that it engenders in the mind and the body. Dance studios that cater to those with PD are safe, fun and enriching to sufferers of the disease. Many dance classes take place on a weekly basis and these dance studios are located at multiple venues around the world, from Canada to the U.S. to the United Kingdom.

A community-style environment featuring professional dance instructors and fellow dancers with Parkinson’s disease allows for warm and welcoming sessions and a new circle of friends. Dancing is widely regarded as one of the most positive and beneficial activities that can be used to treat the symptoms of PD. While there is no known cure for the disease, there is significant benefit in music and dance. Friends and family are always welcome to attend with their relatives.

A Warm and Caring Social Experience

The goal of networks that support dancing for Parkinson’s patients is to create an infrastructure conducive to health and well-being, while taking the specific needs and requirements of PD into account. Regularly scheduled classes are held and the therapeutic value of these sessions is without question. Dancing for Parkinson’s disease is an exploration of music and movement in a way that empowers participants to relieve the symptoms of their condition and enjoy a stimulating experience. Participants routinely attest to the incredible benefits they derive from these dance sessions, and close relationships between dance teachers and dancers ensure that the warmth and interpersonal nature of the experience is always present.