The first time Lisa Pritzl’s mom put sparkly tap shoes on her feet at age three, she knew: dance was for her. Today, after twenty years burning the midnight oil at a corporate job that left little time for dancing, Lisa pivoted and is the founder of Empowerment Dance, which seeks to deliver joy and dance classes to anyone with movement concerns. Her return to dance took what she calls “divine intervention” but, even in the absence of dance, she never forgot its magic: “Dancing, for me, puts you in a place where you forget about the troubles, the worries, the anxieties, the stress, anything that’s thrown your way. It makes you relax and feel joy. From a very early age, I felt it.”
Unraveling into her Passion
Nearly four years ago, Lisa, who was working as a graphic designer at the time, walked into a conference room prepared for her quarterly strategic planning meeting. Before getting started, the owners of the company asked her, “Lisa, how are you?” She suddenly felt hit by the question and, as she put it, “it completely unraveled me.” Out of her mouth came, “I’m doing really good, but I don’t feel the same experience here that I do when I’m dancing. And, truthfully, I don’t know how to find that.”
The answer stunned even her.
But the owners of her company listened. It opened a conversation about her path and they generously flew Lisa to Michigan to spend a day with their life coach. “Unpack what’s going on,” they told her. “Find clarity. Then come back in a week and we’ll talk about next steps.”
She returned clear on what she needed to do: “I needed to take my passion for dance and serve people who have movement concerns.” She took the leap.
Lisa found Dance for PD through a quick Google search, eventually completed the full certification, and launched Empowerment Dance. She has no regrets: “There has been nothing in my entire life that comes close to feeling the way I do when I teach this program.”
The Benefits of Dance for People with Parkinson’s
For Lisa, specializing in classes for people with movement concerns made complete sense. “Dance addresses a lot of the cardinal symptoms of movement disorders,” she said, “like balance, stability, rigidity, and tremors.” It supports cognitive wellbeing, too, through memorization, sequencing, and getting creative, uniting dance moves with stories or visualization. She also incorporates facial expression activities and voice activation.
Lisa has noticed that her students leave class with a different attitude and posture than when they came in. They may come in with backaches or stiffness but, when they’re dancing, for a moment, there’s relief. “Music is crucial,” she said. “If you start bringing your feet along with the rhythm, you tend not to think about the tremor that’s happening or the freezing gait. If you can be relieved of some of that, even for a moment, it’s pretty amazing.”
Her students think so, too. Recently, a student told her, “I love to dance because I live with Parkinson’s 24/7. When I’m dancing, I don’t.”
Changing the World, One Dance Class at a Time
Through dance, Lisa is on a mission to deliver joy. “Joy is a personal quest,” she said. “Everybody’s going to interpret and feel joy differently.” She believes it’s about us being in tune with what makes us happy. When you find it, she says, “do more of that.”
That means if dance brings you joy, do more of it. For her students, it’s also a chance to de-medicalize their lives for a little while and let their hearts, not their heads, be the guide.
This has an impact beyond the dance floor. “When you walk out of class and you’re filled with joy,” she explained, “you become a joy bubble. And it creates this ripple effect as you go into your day, whether you’re going home to your spouse or your caregiver.” The joy spreads.
This is what makes her classes transformative and it’s why she believes dance can change the world, one person at a time.
Living Her Life’s Mission
Today, Lisa’s classes, which combine line dancing, tango, ballet, and more with a variety of music, are hybrid, available to anyone worldwide over Zoom. “Everything is modifiable in our classes,” she explained. “I have individuals who may sit the entire class, some who stand the entire class, and some who sit and stand.” She also tries to have a seated assistant when she’s teaching so students can enjoy sitting, standing, or both.
While her classes clearly have had a meaningful impact on her students, it is what she has gotten in return that she’s most grateful for. “From my students, I have learned to slow down. My life was so hectic before I changed careers…They’ve taught me to appreciate the moment, to find more opportunities in your life to connect with people who matter to you, rather than just darting off to the next meeting.”
Reflecting for a moment longer on her path, she added, “When you’re finally in a spot in your life where you’re living your purpose, it’s not hard anymore. This is who I am. I can be authentic. It’s not this façade that I was putting on for 20 years of my life. There’s no other way to explain it: what I do is not hard because it’s who I’m designed to be.”
Lisa’s living her purpose, spreading ripples of joy on the dance floor and well beyond, into people’s hearts.
For a deeper dive into Lisa’s journey, listen to the full audio conversation PMD Alliance had with her: