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Richmond occupational therapist celebrates Diwali with free Bollywood dance classes

Classes a way to help introduce people to Indian culture and Diwali: Fernandez

A Richmond South Asian occupational therapist is celebrating upcoming Diwali with a series of Bollywood dance classes to help those living with Parkinson’s disease.

Gina Fernandez, founder and owner of Enable Occupational Therapy in Steveston and who is also a dance instructor, said evidence-based research has shown that to slow the progression of Parkinson’s, people should do moderate to high intensity activity – which is where dancing comes in.

The motions of the activity should also be big, she said, as people with Parkinson’s tend to have smaller movements such as a shuffling gait due to how the disease affects the brain, including perception of movement and bilateral coordination.

“It’s a really, really important part of our brain that’s impacted, our ability to do bilateral coordination and use both sides of our body in a functional manner. So Indian dancing actually does that,” she said.

“Indian dancing is super interesting because it involves your upper body, it involves your lower body, left side of your body and right side, and you have to do it with alternating movements. So that’s why Indian dancing is a really good way to deliver this treatment for Parkinson’s.”

Fernandez also wanted to host the free, virtual classes to help raise awareness of Diwali, the “festival of lights.”

“Before I started doing this, I was a competitive Indian dancer,” said Fernandez. “I used to perform in all the big events that were in downtown Vancouver and Surrey and things like that. But we never actually had any in Richmond, which is why I’m trying to bring awareness to this.”

Diwali is a five-day festival, with the “main day” on Nov. 4, that celebrates “light over darkness and good over evil,” she explained.

The major festival is celebrated worldwide by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists, during the Hindu lunisolar month Kartika, which falls between mid-October and mid-November.

People will typically clean and decorate their homes and workplaces with diyas – decorative oil lamps – and rangolis – artful designs created on the floor using colourful sand – said Fernandez, adding people also celebrate Diwali with dance, music and storytelling.

She said the Bollywood dance classes are a way of embracing the message of Diwali.

“This is typically a gloomy time of year, everyone is feeling the COVID fatigue. So it’s a great time for everyone to interject some light into their lives right now and some fun, and also just thinking about looking ahead to an upcoming year full of hope,” she said, adding the classes are also a way to introduce people to Indian culture.

The classes are suitable for individuals at any mobility level and can be done seated or standing.

And, while the classes are targeted to those with Parkinson’s, the exercises would also benefit caregivers and older adults of any functional level, Fernandez said, and can also help combat social isolation.

“The thing with Bollywood classes, is no one has experience, so everyone feels equally awkward and it’s nice for them to participate on the same level, and just have fun together.”

The free, virtual classes will next take place on Oct. 26, Nov. 2 and Nov. 9 (all Tuesdays) from 1:30 p.m. to 2:15 p.m.

Funding for the classes was provided through the Richmond neighbourhood small grants program by Richmond Cares, Richmond Gives.

While the deadline has passed, Fernandez said they can likely accommodate a few more signups.

Those interested should email to register.