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Dancing for Seniors

elderly couple dancing

Two seniors enjoy a dance

Let’s Dance

A short article in United Health Care’s Magazine Renew entitled “Let’s Dance” reminded me to take up this subject again.  There has been much research on the subject of the best exercise for aging bodies, and dance keeps coming up number one.

 

Dance if it brings you joy

Of course, I still hold with the truism that the best exercise is the one you’ll do, so if you don’t like to dance, and I’ve heard rumors that such people do exist, it may not be the best one for you.

It is true that dancing is great for balance, strength, bone health, posture, flexibility, stamina, stress reduction, confidence, and it’s been proven to ward of a number of age related illnesses, but I believe it’s greatest benefit is joy.  It’s no coincidence that this ad for a senior living facility chose dance as it’s metephor for what it will be like to live there:

[embedplusvideo height=”390″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1ybmSzx” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/bF6ChLt8UeI?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=bF6ChLt8UeI&width=640&height=390&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep8859″ /]

Dance is the embodiment of joy.  It’s the perfect expression of a joyful feeling, and doing it also brings that feeling to you.  My unscientific contribution to this discussion is that a joyful life keeps us young.  I can’t say which benefit is the most  important, though.

Or maybe dance anyway

If something unhealthy and sedentary brings you great joy, like say watching old movies while consuming great amounts of chocolate, you might want to give dance a go anyway.  You may find that you can reduce the amount of time you spend on the couch and the amount of sugar you consume and still have great joy and a more cooperative body into the bargain.

You get to have joy in more than one way in this life.  Exploring new things also brings energy and delight.  Who do you know who’s feeling low because their aging body is beginning to betray them?  If you celebrate the gift giving traditions of this time of year, consider giving them a package of private lessons from an inspiring dance teacher.  It could be a life changer!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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When Is A Dance Too Acrobatic?

acrobats from Cirq Du Solei

The incomperable Cirq Du Solei is famous for combining acrobatics and dance

Controversial dance

This surprising controversy in the dance community popped up when this video started going viral:

[embedplusvideo height=”390″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1oaNfNp” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/XAh9zYWfJiY?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=XAh9zYWfJiY&width=640&height=390&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep7038″ /]

But is it really dance?

Some people commented that is isn’t really dance because it’s really just a bunch of aerials and really qualifies as acrobatics rather than dance.  If you’ve read my previous posts about acrobatics and dance, “Are Gymnasts Dancers? Part 1” and “Part 11”, you know that I feel that just about any movement that goes to music qualifies as dance and why are we arguing about this anyway?  We should all get a life.

Dance Aerials in other countries

Nevertheless, it put me in mind of the German dance that they call “Rock and Roll”.  Now that, unlike the previous example that had beautiful musical interpretation and expression, really does fit the description of a bunch of aerials stuck together with a few very peculiar basic kicking steps.  Here’s an example of Rock and Roll:

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If that qualifies as dance (and it definitely does) then how can anyone argue with the first example?  Yes there is more to dance than stunning air steps, but no matter what I think of the filler steps, the spectacular aerials and the basic step that glues them together are all on beat and do go with the music.  That’s dance!

In fact, the concept of a cultural dance that consists primarily of air steps glued together with a basic step of some kind and very little else, seems to exist in vastly different cultures.  Odd though Rock and Roll’s basic straight forward kick step may look to us (or at least to me), it is in it’s own way distinctly German.

In this stunning example of Mexico’s Quebradita Acrobatica, you see the basic step continually repeated in the second part where the music speeds up.  The sexy fluidity of this movement reflects the culture of it’s parent country as well.  Gorgeous, isn’t it?

[embedplusvideo height=”390″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1oaNBDs” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/u8FtpFNMwpg?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=u8FtpFNMwpg&width=640&height=390&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep2498″ /]

Does it really matter what you call any of it?  It’s all highly skilled movement to music.  That’s good enough for me!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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Lindy in Ho Chi Minh Park

Ho Chi Minh Park

Ho Chi Minh Park without the dancers

Out Door Dancing Around the World

For the past 16 years I’ve been spending my Sundays dancing Lindy Hop in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Ours was the first regular outdoor Lindy event , and over the years many other versions have popped up in other parts of the county and around the world.

I recently read an article from a visitor to Viet Nam who was expecting to find a park full of people doing Tai Chi or some kind of Chi Gung exercise. Instead he was greeted by a crowd of elderly women dancing Lindy Hop and Country Line Dances to American music.

The International Language of Dance

I have mentioned before how dance is the international language and there is no better ambassador than Lindy Hop. It’s a particularly joyful dance and the music is infectious. This is the first I’ve heard of Viet Nam’s version and I’m so delighted to hear of it.

For the full story, check out Jeff Greenfield’s interesting article in the Daily Beast.
And if you dance Lindy Hop somewhere else, think of starting your own Lindy in the Park.

If you dance locally, check out the original! Here’s the official Lindy in the Park website.
By LaurieAnn Lepoff
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Scientists agree: Dancing for a healthy brain!

 

elderly couple dancing

Dancing is the best brain work!

The Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City recently completed a 21 year study of seniors, to measure the effects of various activities on brain activity. It was funded by the National Institute on Aging, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  They studied a lot of different physical activities as well as mental activities like reading and doing puzzles. The coolest thing to come out of the study (for me anyway) was that the ONLY physical activity to have any effect on dementia was dancing. Mental activity, like challenging puzzles, also worked, but it all worked better the more you do it.

If you want to keep your mind sharp, don’t just learn to dance, but dance OFTEN. The more you dance, the happier your brain will be. Of course I’m a big believer in doing the things that bring you joy, and there are many other benefits to any form of exercise, especially if it’s a joyful activity for you. But for the protection of your mind’s health, there is apparently only one choice: dance! How cool is that?

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How Most Dancers Age

 

 

Belinda Ricklefs aging dancer

Belinda Ricklefs talks about dance and age

Now that you’ve read about Jean Veloz and other inspirational dancers who are still dancing in the final years of their lives, I’d like to take a look at how most dancers deal with the aging process.  I addressed this earlier in Nov 12 post about the great tap dancer Fayard Nicolas When Aging Dancers Stop Dancing.

Now I want to address how aging affects regular dancers.  You know, folks who are more like me!  I interviewed my friend and colleague Belinda Ricklefs for this article.

Belinda and I are both dancer instructors. For some of the years we’ve been friends, both of us taught  without a partner.  For many years we got together every week to practice new dances we learned together, or review a requested dance that we were too rusty to teach without a brush up.  At 78, Belinda is still teaching with the help of teaching partners Chuck and Lisa, but suffers from problems with her shoulder that cause her constant pain and make social dancing problematic.  She is careful now about with whom she is willing to dance and even with skilled careful partners she has to take ibuprofen and pay a price later. 

It’s been a gradual series of losses for Belinda, with ups and downs, but ultimately a reality of less cooperation from her body, more fragility and constant pain.  For someone who always took great pleasure in the nuances of dance, always improving in detailed ways, and always having new insights to pass on to her students, aging has created huge losses. 

In order to keep from sinking into depression about what she can no longer do, Belinda has found other passions, like creative writing and deejaying, that she can do without pain.  She keeps her spirits up by making sure her community of dancers and non dancers of all ages, is strong.  She feels the love and support of long time friends and new ones, enjoys doing things with interesting people, but does not torture herself by attending dance events in which she can no longer participate.

I have another friend who cannot dance at all anymore but found he had a gift for music and has become a respected and sought after musician in his senior years.

It takes guts to deal with this kind of loss when your lifestyle has always been active.  Guts, creativity, a persistent positive outlook, and a willingness to take responsibility for the joy in your life when the activities of a lifetime are no longer available to you.

None of us know how the wages of age will treat us, but loss of physical ability and chronic pain are often the fate of dancers as we age.  Not all of us have the grace that Belinda has shown in dealing with the challenges life has dealt her, but although it’s inspiring to watch dancers who age like Jean Veloz, it’s also important to be inspired by dancers like Belinda Ricklefs who can be role models for real life.

As the saying goes, “Aging is not for sissies!” Take care of your body as best you can, hope for the best, and plan for alternatives if you are not dealt the hand for which you hoped.  Life is full of surprises.  Finding the way to enjoy it anyway may just be the ultimate game!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Inspirational Jean Veloz dances like a teenager at 87

Jean Veloz dancing

Jean Veloz as a young dancer

Back to my theme of older dancers who inspire us with their perpetual youth (I know they’re not the norm, but they sure are fun to read about!) I have to talk about one of my personal favorites, Jean Veloz.  Jean was a popular example of the smooth lindy style popularized by dancers like Dean Collins in the 1940s.  In addition to her flawless style, she was also flat out adorable.  Today, she’s just as energetic and unbelievably cute as she was 70 years ago.  Few people get to age like this, but at least we know it’s possible.  Here she is in the 1944 movie Swing Fever, the epitome of girl next door wholesomeness.  Every soldier’s dream girl, she symbolized what we were fighting for.  She’s dancing with two guys, and you can see another example of stealing, as describes in my October 18 post Stealing in Partner Dance.   In this choreography they do some stealing and sometimes they politely hand her to one another instead of stealing her away.

[embedplusvideo height=”507″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1cqpU4m” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/1Mc2fTyTca4?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=1Mc2fTyTca4&width=640&height=507&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep3040″ /]

Last year (2012) she was honored at the Herrang Dance Camp in Sweden.  You can see her familiar style still going strong as she dances with Marcus Koch, who can’t resist flirting with her as they dance.  This is not a choreographed routine like the one in the movie.  They’re just social dancing on a stage.  She’s 88 in this clip:

[embedplusvideo height=”388″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1cqpYRC” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/SRlhfUvq8hQ?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=SRlhfUvq8hQ&width=640&height=388&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep5077″ /]

 

Yep, wouldn’t you like to dance like that at 88?  It helps if you never stop, and add to that the right genes and lack of serious injury and you just might get to keep on going like Jean Veloz.  Good luck to you all!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Pole Dancing for Everyone

 

pole dancers

A Pole Dance class at San Francisco’s Studio Botan

Pole dancing is a popular phenomenon on the exercise dance scene.  You can take classes at any fitness level in studios like the one in the photo in the bay area where I live.   

Formerly a style of dance relegated to sleazy strip joints, it has become a popular fitness dance fad.  Aimed primarily at women, it’s a challenging workout with sexy fun overtones.  You feel sexy as your body rises to the challenge of using the pole in graceful, strengthening, and sultry movements.  What a great time in history when women can learn to move this way just for fun, to use anyway they want. 

Some do it just for a fun exercise class, some to wow a romantic partner.  Some participate in competitive pole dance and some use it for its original purpose.  Who’d have thought that pole dancing as a job would ever be considered an old fashioned use of this formerly socially forbidden dance form?

Pole dancing really is for everyone now.  You don’t have to have a stripper’s body.  (Even strippers don’t have to have that body any more, but that’s another post!)  You don’t have to be young.  You don’t even have to be a woman.  Once pole dancing began to have mainstream contests, it was only a matter of time before men started getting in on the act. 

I’ve gathered a few short clips to illustrate the amazing variety of this graceful acrobatic art.  The oldest pole dancer, (yeah, she’s about my age.  60 really is the new 30!) Greta Pontarelli, eloquently speaks of her passion for the dance and why she sees it as a great fit for anyone:

 [embedplusvideo height=”388″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1eqnB3y” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/rPYei9GKM_o?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=rPYei9GKM_o&width=640&height=388&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep9628″ /]

In completive pole dancing, there is now a male category.  The men don’t mimic the traditional style of women but give it their own style and flavor.   It’s easy to see why this gifted dancer took first place in the men’s division:

[embedplusvideo height=”388″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1eqnIMy” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/rr3_tsDzn_c?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=rr3_tsDzn_c&width=640&height=388&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep4208″ /]

And last but not least, in a fitting follow up to my Nov 15 post Who Wants to See A Fat Dancer?

Here’s an example of a dancer who doesn’t let her size get in the way of taking on and showing off her prowess in culturally forbidden dance to women of her girth.  I love the expression on the judge’s face when she does the splits in a perfect landing at the end.  Fat women are not supposed to have the strength and flexibility to do this kind of dance, and while the vote is split because she’s good but not outstanding as a dancer (my judgment) she still flies in the face of common assumptions about the capabilities of fat women and sets a powerful example to the many watchers of this popular TV show about dance being truly the birthright of everyone.

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Gymnasts as dancers, part II

 

87 year old gymnast

Gymnastics as dance demonstrated by 87 year old Johanna Quaas

This is the second post about gymnasts as promised in last week’s post Are Gymnasts Dancers? This is also part of my series on inspirational dancers still wowing us in their senior years. The subject of today’s post is Johanna Quaas, an 87 year old gymnast. In last week’s post I established my belief that a gymnastic routine does qualify as dancing, hence the appropriateness of today’s subject.

 

Watching this video reminds me of Frankie Manning’s 85th birthday dance jam. I was the last partner he danced with in his jam and he popped an effortless aerial with me as an ending flourish. Of course he never would have been able to do that if he was still learning the move, but he didn’t learn it at 85. He learned it (invented it even) as a teenager and after a few decades of doing it, could at 85 do it with a minimum of effort.

 

Johanna Quaas entered her first contest in 1934 at the age of eleven and never stopped. She achieved internet fame when in 2012 she was listed in The Guinness Book of Records as oldest gymnast in the world. She married another gymnast, and went on to coach Olympic gymnasts.  Here she is, not just demonstrating that she is still an active gymnast, but that’s she’s still a really good one!

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While not all athletes remain healthy enough to continue their activity in their eighties, those that are did not suddenly decide to get in shape and learn a new skill at 80. They may have decided to learn a new skill in their golden years, as did yoga teacher  Tao Porchon-Lynch when she took up ballroom dance in her eighties, but she was already active and in great shape from a lifelong dedication to yoga.  Very helpful if you want to blow everyone’s mind in your aging years!

 

I don’t mean to discourage any elderly couch potato from starting an active lifestyle at any age. I do, however, mean to encourage everyone to find an activity you love at whatever age you are now, and make it a part of your life. All of my stories and videos of inspirational seniors have one thing in common besides dance. All of them deeply love the activity that keeps them young. None of them exercise because somebody told them it’s good for them. All of them inspire us not only with their longevity and skill, but with their passion. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: find something you love doing and in the memorable words of Roger Miller’s immortal “You Can’t Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd”: “Knuckle down, buckle down, Do it! Do it! Do it!”

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Veteran Dancers Make it Look Easy

Charlie and Jackie dance carolina shag

carolina shag champion dancers Charlie Womble and Jackie McGee

When I write about older dancers I usually try to find dancers still wowing us in their 80s and 90s. Today I’m going to feature Charlie Womble and Jackie McGee, even though they’re only in their 60s. The reason is that I want to talk about the ease that comes with experience. You’ve heard the expression “They make it look easy.” when people talk about very good dancers. I would amend that to say, no, it doesn’t look easy but it looks as if it’s easy for them.

With age (if you started early enough) comes experience. With experience, eventually comes ease. When I go out dancing, I like to dance every dance. I don’t like to sit out dances unless I don’t like the song, and even then I kind of want to be on the floor. People are amazed that I have the energy to out dance people half my age and younger, but it’s not that I’m in better shape. I’m just more efficient. When you’ve been doing something long enough, your muscles figure out which of them are needed and the rest of them take a break.  When you’re new at it, every muscle in your body thinks it has to participate. New dancers just plain work harder and tire sooner. Of course, they get more exercise, so there’s a perk for every stage in the dance of life.

Jackie and Charlie are famous for Carolina Shag and there couldn’t be a better pair of ambassadors for any dance. If you had to find one word to capture what is amazing about them, (aside from “Wow!”) it would probably be “ease”. Every move uses the precise amount of energy necessary and not a jot more. They are completely relaxed and their dance is effortless.

There is no shortcut to having the element of ease in your dance. It only comes with experience. You can either put in a LOT of hours when you’re young, or just keep dancing until you turn gray. Or, like Charlie and Jackie, you can do both! And if you are lucky enough to find yourself in their neck of the woods, take advantage of the opportunity to learn from the masters and try your hand at Carolina Shag. Enjoy!
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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Seniors Dancing Hip Hop!

hip hop performance

Seniors perform a hip hop dance routine

Studies have shown (I love that phrase) that dancing is one of the best things you can do to exercise the brain and seniors especially are encouraged to take up dancing to keep those gray cells active and challenged. Somehow I don’t think it does much for those of us who have been doing it for several decades already, but if it’s new for you, what a fun way to stay young in body and in mind. My brain goes to sleep when I dance. “Oh, this again” it says, “Let’s take a break until something new comes along.” Fortunately there is always something new to learn in dance. I stopped doing hip hop when my body protested that I was too old for the moves my favorite teacher favored. These people, however, are learning a hip hop style that is designed for them, taking into consideration all of their limitations and capabilities. How fun is this?[embedplusvideo height=”507″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/12pL6Sm” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/yteDoWYEAkU?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=yteDoWYEAkU&width=640&height=507&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep8447″ /]

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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94 Year Old Wins Dance Competions

 

94 year old Tao Porchon-Lynch

Tao Porchon-Lynch dances with abandon!

 Tao Porchon-Lynch is a 94 year old yoga teacher who started dancing in her eighties.  A perfect example of “It’s never too late to start”, Tao hit the ground running when she decided to take on ballroom dance.  It wasn’t long before she began winning competitions. 

     Unlike a lot of my favorite examples of active dancers in the final decades of life, Tao did not start young.  She actually chose it as a new activity in her eighties.  She was, of course, active all of her life and did not suddenly decide to use dance as a way to get fit in her old age.  I won’t say this isn’t possible, but she’s a good example of why it’s a good idea to find an activity you love and make it a part of your life. 

     Active people age better and an active lifestyle makes it easier to take on a new activity when you’re older to keep your mind and body from atrophying.  I recently read an article on the internet that included a questionnaire to determine your activity level.  The highest category was “highly active” and the definition was at least an hour of exercise a day. 

     Our bodies are designed to be active most of the time and it’s a commentary of our times that a person who spends 23 hours a day sitting or sleeping is considered highly active.  We have to fight cultural pressures to keep our bodies in motion and healthy.  The best exercise, I tell my students, is the one you’ll do.  If you want to have this much fun in your eighties, find something you love to do and do it often!

Meanwhile, enjoy this video of of Tao![embedplusvideo height=”507″ width=”640″ standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/P2MoztPyvgY?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=P2MoztPyvgY&width=640&height=507&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep4339″ /]

By LaurieAnn Lepoff