Pamela Lappen from Dancing with Parkinson’s

An interview with Pamela Lappen the Founder of Dancing with Parkinson’s – US on July 29, 2023 by George Ackerman, Ph.D, J.D.




Recognized for her “eye for artistry and aesthetics” in dance, along with her “ability to smoothly execute projects,” Pamela received an invitation from David Leventhal, Dance for PD® Founding Teacher and Program Director, to participate in the 2010 Dance for PD® teacher’s training, in Pasadena, CA.  Teaching dance to those with Parkinson’s disease, in CA and NV, Pamela was awarded her Dance for PD® certification, in 2019.  Pamela is passionate about offering a high-quality dance program to people with PD and their caregivers.


Lappen has received support from the Nevada Arts Council, The National Endowment for the Arts, the Parkinson’s Foundation, and Medtronic for her work with the Las Vegas Parkinson’s community.

Her dance for Parkinson’s presentations has been seen at educational, wellness and medical symposiums, such as the: Cleveland Clinic – Las Vegas, the Parkinson’s Foundation – Desert Southwest Chapter, PMD Alliance, Parkinson’s Place – Las Vegas, and h2u – Mountain View Hospital.  Pamela’s PD dancers have eagerly participated and performed in educational presentations, dance videos, and lecture demonstrations, such as: When Parkinson’s Knocks on Your Door, The Dancing with Parkinson’s Nevada Video Project, PD and the Creative Arts Experience, and The Crane Dance and I am Dance Projects for the World Parkinson Congress.


Pamela Lappen’s diverse range of accomplishments as a performing artist, educator, and administrator in the arts, dance, theater, and music, has been beneficial in the development and enrichment of the Dancing with Parkinson’s – US project in Las Vegas, NV.

M.A. UCLA, Dance and Education

B.F.A. UW-Milwaukee, Dance & Theatre Performance

Dance for PD® Certified Teaching Artist

For more information,


Please tell me a little about your background and what got you involved with awareness.


Dance has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember.  In my younger years, I found the more I danced the better I excelled in my academic studies.  So, I find it to be very exciting that dance and brain health are now documented and studied in the arts and sciences.  When the opportunity to learn more about dance and Parkinson’s disease was presented to me, I was intrigued.


What I was not prepared for, when I began teaching dance for Parkinson’s disease thirteen plus years ago, was the difficulty in finding a place for my PD dancers to be welcomed.  (I am glad to say that obstacle has diminished.)  However, I was shocked beyond words.


Those early lessons provided an understanding of the challenges people with PD face in their daily lives.  So, before I even began teaching my first dance for Parkinson’s class, I was pounding the pavement to open doors for those with PD advocating and bringing awareness.

However, education continues to be the key in and outside of the dance studio to break down barriers.


Can you tell me more about your advocacy?


Determined and Proud


Early in my work in teaching dance to people with PD I quickly discovered there were many people who were not aware of or had misconceptions about Parkinson’s disease.  I had to be determined and proud about my work with the Parkinson’s community to open doors for my PD dancers to have a space to dance, learn, make healthy discoveries and connections, while they strive to live their best lives.  This unusual beginning provided an excellent foundation for the spirit of my work.


Overtime my PD dancers became interested in participating in public educational presentations.  They were eager to have their voices heard and share their dancing with others.  What is exciting to me is they were discovering how to advocate for their care and future.


This led to the development of our social support group for the PD dancers and caregivers.  The foundation of our support group is to strengthen the inner voice of each person in an enjoyable and safe space, while improving how they can best articulate their wants and needs, as they build self-confidence and how to advocate for oneself.  This foundation evolved through the respect of everyone’s voice, from a collective perspective.


What is your passion and how did you get involved in Parkinson’s awareness and hope for a cure?


Dance creates balance mentally and physically and has shaped my perspective.  When someone observes my Dance for PD® class, they may say I am passionate about dance.  However, I am a self-competitive person, and simply I am very passionate about offering the best work I can so I may help those with Parkinson’s disease.


How I became involved with the PD community was through a dance colleague’s introduction.  She asked me to speak with David Leventhal about dance and Parkinson’s disease and a program called Dance for PD®.  At that time, I was a Professor of Dance who was busy teaching dance, choreographing, producing dance concerts and festivals for my students.  However, since I am interested in the dance arts and brain health, I listened.  She said this person is affiliated with the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) a dance company, an organization who I highly respect.  My plate was full at that time, but I had to say yes.  And, to this day I am grateful for that call as I was honored to be selected to learn how I may serve our Parkinson’s community through my art.


In my first Dance for PD® training, with founding teachers: David Leventhal and Misty Owens and Dance for PD® visionary Olie Westheimer, I listened to the doctors and people with PD speak about Parkinson’s disease.  So, at the onset of my first training, my hope for a cure was immediate.  What I could offer in the meantime as a dance professional had to have a purpose beyond me, while fulfilling a need for the community.  If you are curious about Dance for PD®, please visit their website to learn about this outstanding research-backed program.


Along with many others, I will celebrate the day there is a cure for Parkinson’s disease.  Honoring the memories of those before us in this journey, while knowing I have done my part in sharing dance to others in need.


What type of goals do individuals with Parkinson’s awareness have when working with you?


For those who take my weekly Dance for PD® class and participate in our social support group on a regular basis they discover how to set individual, healthy, positive, and attainable goals.  This can improve their overall performance in class and daily lives as they find the joy in movement.  The skills they learn, and practice is how I have worked with dancers’ beginner to professional in performance coaching.  I have taught all my dancers to learn how to think and move well within the context of oneself.


I do not lessen my approach in teaching dance to anyone who has PD.  For someone to experience the benefits of a dance class, they need to experience a dance class.  The focus is not on the disease instead the focus is on dancing and the goals we have set for ourselves.


We are thinking dancers who beautifully move to the best of our abilities!


What effect can your advocacy have on an individual with Parkinson’s awareness?


Socially I feel it is my responsibility as a dance educator to share the best classes I can offer along with the best resources.  If I don’t have an answer, then it is important to guide my participants in a direction where they may receive the best information to meet their needs.  I hope my example will inspire others.


Educating our PD community is critical in advancing towards a cure.


What would you like to see as a future goal for your advocacy?


I have several years of experience being an advocate.  I have been an advocate for dance as art, dance in education, dance in wellness and now dance for Parkinson’s disease.  However, reflecting on where we are in this PD journey, I find my focus shifting to advocating to discover a cure for Parkinson’s disease.  We cannot be complacent about where we are in this global Parkinson’s journey.


Having been involved with the PD community through dance for over thirteen years, I have had the amazing opportunity to meet so many wonderful people from all walks of life who just happen to have Parkinson’s disease.  Sadly, many of my PD dancers who I met at the beginning of my Dance for PD® journey are no longer with us.  They are dearly missed.


2023 must be the year we push with more conviction towards a cure for Parkinson’s disease ending the suffering of millions of people around the world.


What events do you participate in?


I have participated in numerous events through the Cleveland Clinic – Las Vegas, the Parkinson’s Foundation, Dance for PD®, along with several community programs.


How does this also assist the caregivers?


My dance for Parkinson’s class, social support group and presentations are open to all caregivers.   For the caregivers who participate in our activities, they find them to be very rewarding for themselves, as well.


In our Dance for PD® class:


All participants experience an improvement in their thinking as they build stamina, flexibility, postural stability, coordination, confidence, and social relationships.


In an environment that focuses on art, wellness, and creativity, they experience the essence of movement – joy!



Participants experience dance in a class culture that strives to:


  1. Ensures psychological safety,
  2. Encourages a sense of belonging,
  3. Creates a sense of purpose,
  4. Establishes routines that minimize stress and
  5. Offers sincere praise.


May I share the word “caregiver” encompasses a broad group of people.  Caregivers are a critical component to our healthcare system.  I can’t imagine what our country would be without caregivers.


A caregiver could be a healthy individual who works for a service to provide care to those in need.  (An area we need to be advocating for is providing PD training for commercial caregivers.)  Or, a caregiver could be a friend, family member or spouse who should also educate themselves about PD, as Parkinson’s disease can be very different for each person.


There are many fine resources to learn more about PD that are available to everyone through reputable organizations.  Let me name a few.


The Michael J. Fox Foundation,

The Parkinson’s Foundation,

Davis Phinney Foundation,

APDA (American Parkinson Disease Association)

and PMD Alliance.


They have helpful information and online programs for people to participate in.  And they are there to answer questions and provide direction.


Lastly, when speaking about caregivers there is one group that I am concerned is not receiving proper attention.  They are women with Parkinson’s disease who are caregivers for their ailing spouse.  These women often do not have a caregiver support system for themselves that understands their needs.  The broad answers given to caregivers do not provide the information and assistant these women need.  We need to address their needs.


How can someone get in touch?  What is your website?


My contact information can be found through my website at:


If you had one final statement or quote you could leave for the Parkinson community, what would it be?


“Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create.”
― Roy T. Bennett