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Meet the ballet choreographer who’s teaching people with Parkinson’s disease to dance

By Helen M. Flores Published Jun 08, 2021 2:19 pm

“Parkinson’s Disease is still treated as a mysterious and frightening ailment in the Philippines and Asia generally. We are fighting hard to make treatment, medication and awareness much more available wherever possible,” Sydney-based Filipino dancer Novy Bereber told PhilSTAR L!fe in an e-mail interview.

The dancer founded Bereber Sayaw PD, a non-profit, non-government organization, in September 2020. The NGO helps people with Parkinson’s disease in different parts of the world. Currently, the group is conducting physical and online sessions for over 200 students from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, US, Australia and the Philippines.

Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that leads to shaking, stiffness and difficulty with walking, balance and coordination. The disease usually attacks people between the ages of 50 and 69.

Novy Bereber’s NGO helps people with Parkinson’s disease in different parts of the world.

Putting up an organization that seeks to increase awareness on Parkinson’s disease was Bereber’s dream when he visited the Philippines in 2019. Now, amid the pandemic, his NGO has transformed many lives and continue to inspire others to support his advocacy.

Studies reveal that dancing addresses several problems that come with Parkinson’s disease.

Former Ballet Philippines choreographer Novy Bereber and his partner, Filipino-born Australian events director Juan Ignacio Trápaga, and Sayaw technical director Will Laxa are running the NGO.  

Novy Bereber and his students in Sydney, Australia.
Bereber Sayaw PD conducts both online and physical classes. 

Laxa said he finds joy in supporting the movement, which creates a community for people with PD “who are isolated” due to the pandemic. “It excites me to find ways to help Sayaw PD grow its capability, connect with more people, expand our classes and create technical systems to help run the organization,” he said.

Teacher Dazha Dacanay said she is fortunate to share her passion for dancing at Sayaw PD, where everyone can explore the joy of movement and music together.

“During this pandemic, sometimes all we need is an hour where we can step away from reality and immerse ourselves in a different world where all is right again,” Dacanay said.

Bereber Sayaw PD is now the leading body for Dance for Parkinson’s in Asia, and is the third most popular online Dance for Parkinson’s Disease (DfPD) body on Facebook globally.

The group offers free online classes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 3 p.m. (Manila time) through its website, as well as on Facebook and YouTube.

“We have an extensive online class program. We also do private online classes as well as private one-on-one live classes. All these will increase once the pandemic is brought under control,” said Bereber, who hails from Iloilo.

Bereber said two of their instructors are now undergoing training in Hong Kong and Australia.

Tita Ophie, one of Sayaw PD’s students, said her entire body is stiff due to PD. “To date, I have not become a superb dancer but I have improved my balance, gained friends and have become a better person with PD,” she said.

The Iloilo-born, Sydney-based dancer is transforming lives around the globe.

Another student, Tita Merla, said Sayaw PD gives her something to look forward to every week. “Sayaw PD has kept me mobile, has given me hope and joy, and has maintained my strength, and has provided me a support group,” she said.

Bereber said participants don’t come to their class to get therapy, but rather to learn to dance and enjoy themselves in an artistic, social setting. 

“Our goal is to have a headquarters for Sayaw PD Philippines soon, most probably in Iloilo with branch affiliates in Manila and other major cities,” Bereber said.