Is dance, specifically ballet, the new activity of choice for older Australians?
The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) is expanding its Silver Swans program – ballet classes for the over-55s – across Australia; Dancing Grandmothers was a hit at the recent OzAsia Festival in Adelaide, and research shows confidence and balance are greatly improved in older adults who dance.
And that’s totally ignoring the fact that you may have always wanted to do ballet classes as a kid but it just wasn’t possible.
In 2017, Queensland Ballet and the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) undertook research on the benefits of ballet for older adults and reported that it helped to reduce the incidence of diabetes, heart disease, dementia, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. It can also help to improve bone density and cognitive skills such as enhanced balance and coordination.
Professor Gene Moyle, head of the QUT’s School of Creative Practice, said that in addition to the physical benefits, challenging movements and sequences led to an increased sense of achievement, happiness and mental engagement.
Former professional ballerina Angelika Burroughs says that ballet encourages us to engage our core muscles, glutes and upper back.
“Poor posture caused by desk jobs and too much time stuck in the car, plus the natural process of ageing means many of us are just not as flexible as we used to be,” she says, explaining that ballet promoted flexibility and strength, key elements of a healthy life.
A Silver Swans spokesperson reiterated her comments, saying that the classes for the over-55s had been developed in response to demand and helped to improve mobility, posture, coordination, energy levels “and, most importantly, impart the sense of wellbeing that dance brings”.
Singer, dancer and actor Caroline O’Connor is the RAD’s ambassador for the Silver Swans project. She says: “I have been a dancer all my life and see no reason why I shouldn’t keep enjoying dance for many years to come.
“Dance is a beautiful form of human expression and a wonderful way to maintain a social connection. In my opinion, there is nothing that compares to the joy you feel when you hear music and you begin to dance.”
Teacher Lyn Fitzsimons, one of the first pilot teachers, says her classes on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland evolve according to participants’ needs. “It’s unpredictable and exciting with these Swans and the class evolves almost depending on how my ladies are feeling physically and mentally, and how inspired they feel with the music.”
Gwenyth, 86, says she joined a class for her birthday in the hope that moving to music would improve her “less-than-perfect memory”. She says: “I’m not too sure that it has, but I thoroughly enjoy the classes and the company.”
Silver Swans classes are available across Australia, with more opening early next year.
Click here to find a Silver Swans class near you.