Background Physical exercise improves neurological conditions, but adherence is hard to establish. Dance might be a promising alternative. However, for patients with Huntington Disease (HD), who suffer from rhythmic movement execution deficits, metric dance practice might be unsuitable and alternatives must be explored.
Aims Here we asked, if contemporary dance, a lyrical dance form, practiced for two hours per week over five months, might improve motor function, body perception, and brain volume of HD patients.
Methods Nineteen patients aged between 43 and 78 years with mild to moderate HD (TFC range 7–13, UHDRS motor score range 3–58) participated in this randomized, controlled pilot study. The primary outcome measure was UHDRS motor score. Secondary outcome measures were body perception and structural brain differences. Body perception was assessed qualitatively with a semi-structured interview.
Results UHDRS motor score decreased from 28[6–51] (median [IQR]) to 27[7–33] for the dance group compared to 19[13–35] – 25[14–42] for usual care, Z=-2.44, p=0.015). Preliminary evidence yielded brain volume increase in the medial superior parietal and paracentral lobule, in line with compensatory structural brain changes in areas supporting spatial and sensory body representations. These brain changes were mirrored by patient reports that contemporary dance altered the way they ‘felt and lived in their bodies’.
Conclusions Contemporary dance practice, through work on spatial and bodily representations, helps improve motor function in HD patients.
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