Micah Schlittenhardt, 17, of Bismarck, North Dakota, a junior at Legacy High School, spent more than 150 hours raising awareness across North Dakota about the benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s disease, while also raising funds for dance lessons, support groups and research. When Micah was 12, her best friend’s father had to quit his job when his Parkinson’s symptoms progressed. “The impact this disease had on her family left an impression on me that I will never forget,” said Micah. Coincidentally, she had been involved in fundraising to enable her ballet studio to offer free dance classes for people with Parkinson’s. The two experiences made it clear what her volunteer mission should be.
In addition to her own observations, Micah found studies that showed how dancing improves the cognition, motor skills, mood and confidence of people with Parkinson’s. But many health care professionals are unaware of the therapy, patients themselves don’t understand the benefits, and dance instructors lack funding to become certified in the techniques. So Micah began spreading the word, arranging demonstrations for people with the disease, speaking to Parkinson’s support groups and at state conferences, developing informational fliers for health care professionals and writing a magazine article on the subject, which led to several radio and television interviews. In addition, Micah teamed up with a bakery to create a special donut resembling the Parkinson’s logo; $3,000 of the sales have been donated to train North Dakota’s first American Dance Therapy Association Certified Dance-for-Parkinson’s instructor, to help fund Parkinson’s support groups, and to advance research into the disease.