discoveries magazine

The Dancer: Linda Berghoff

Grace and Gratitude

Linda Berghoff

Photo by Austin Hargrave

Ballet. Jazz. Tap. Hip-hop. Linda Berghoff does it all — with grace and gratitude. She defies and resists her Parkinson's diagnosis with elegant arabesques or Bob Fosse–style routines.

Despite watching the progressive disease immobilize her mother, Berghoff believes it doesn't have to be the same for her. Instead, she channels the resilience she also inherited from her parents, who were Holocaust survivors. "They lost everything but were never bitter," Berghoff says. "They were grateful for simple things every day."

Her lifelong love affair with dance has kept this warm and willowy retired teacher on her toes — literally — since her diagnosis 11 years ago. At that time, she was having difficulty with balance and coordination. "I was terrified it would keep getting worse and I would not be able to dance," she says. Medication brought her symptoms under better control, enabling her to build strength, flexibility, and endurance by doing what makes her feel most alive.

Now she shares the benefits of dance with other Parkinson's patients. With help from Laura Karlin, artistic director of Invertigo Dance Theatre, and Sofia Klass, an Invertigo dancer, she brought the Brooklyn-based Dance for PD program to Southern California about six years ago. People at all stages of the disease participate in the Invertigo Dance Theatre "Dancing Through Parkinson's" classes that Berghoff leads. Some with advanced symptoms sway, tap their feet, and follow her elegant arm movements without leaving their seats.

"Everyone has rhythm and joy inside of them," Berghoff says. "After an hour of dancing, you walk out stronger because you're doing something to help yourself."

Parkinson's has taught Berghoff to accept certain limits — a valuable lesson for coping with aging as well as illness. She doesn't let herself get down about her footwork not being as fast or her kicks as high as they once were. "I'm learning to modify the way I move and to be humble," she says. "You can make a dance out of life by moving through challenges in a graceful way."