Claudio started the class this spring after training at the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn, which pioneered dance as a therapy for those with Parkinson's. Dance for PD programs are taught in more than 100 communities.
Nationally, 1 percent of the population over age 65 has the disease. The rate is nearly double in Utah, a fact that researchers hope to explore with the help of a new Parkinson's registry.
The class, "Grey Matters: Stretching the Mind, the Body and the Spirit Through Dance," is a collaboration of the U.'s departments of modern dance and physical therapy.
The dancing is intended to be fun and creative, but it also is based on research about the disease, says Claudio, who runs the class with the help of Lennie Swenson, a doctoral student in physical therapy who has a bachelor's degree in modern dance.
Dancing has been shown to help those with Parkinson's improve motor skills, cognitive functioning and emotions.
To start the class, Claudio has the Parkinson's patients and volunteers awaken their nerves by tapping their feet and patting their hands along their arms, legs and trunks.
Ron Kallinger, 78, says the dance moves force him to make big movements with his arms and legs, exercises that counter his natural inclination to keep his limbs close and his movements small.
Those with Parkinson's, for instance, often shuffle their feet.
"There are times I go home and I'm exhausted," Kallinger says.
Swenson teaches the student volunteers from the modern dance and physical therapy departments how to take vital signs and watch for exhaustion in the dancers.
But she doesn't like the volunteers to hover too closely, "so they can have the enjoyment of being a dancer, not a patient."
Daniel Gwin, a 62-year-old former cellist and bassist with the Utah Symphony, says dancing "teaches me what I can and cannot do."
And 70-year-old Sylvia Mathis says dancing helps her with coordination and balance, as well as cognitive functioning.