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Dance students help to keep seniors shimmying

York University dance department leads weekly senior-friendly dance classes.

by Katrina Heer

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You’re never too old to shake it. That’s the idea behind a new initiative that sees students from York University’s department of dance lead weekly, senior-friendly dance classes at participating institutions in the Toronto area.

The project, launched last fall with the support of the provincial government’s Healthy Communities Fund, focuses on the positive and preventative effects that dance can have for seniors. It’s proven popular, with more than 200 people participating at a dozen locations since the project’s launch.

Sixteen students take part in the project, earning course credit for their third-year pedagogy classes. The students are taught to work with all age groups, body types and abilities, tailoring their lessons accordingly.

“That’s really what good teaching is,” says the project manager and York dance professor Mary Jane Warner. “You look at who you have in the class and work with them to develop what they need.” Participants are already reporting positive results, both physically and emotionally.

“It’s really enforced why I love to dance,” says fourth-year student Rhea Bowman, “just seeing [the seniors] come to class and enjoy it.” Ms. Bowman teaches a one-hour class once a week at the Black Creek Community Health Centre – but it almost always stretches into two hours, she adds, because the seniors usually have a snack and socialize afterwards. “I definitely have made a connection with these ladies,” she says. “It’s very inspiring.”

In addition to forging lasting relationships with participants, students may find an unexplored market to tap into after graduation, says Dr. Warner. “The boomers want to keep active and they’re not going to simply retire to their chairs and stop moving when they turn 65,” she says. Good dance programs led by trained professionals are in high demand right now and will continue to be in the future, she contends.

The dance department will offer another program next year that will focus primarily on special-needs groups, like stroke victims or individuals with diabetes, Alzheimer’s or dementia. Students will have the opportunity to learn about disease and how it affects movement, exploring a more scientific approach to teaching dance, says Dr. Warner. “I think people should be dancing throughout their entire lives."

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