Move It and Groove It!
The Creative Soul
Located on a part of real estate in New York City that either affords one a landscape of New Jersey or Manhattan, Naomi Goldberg Haas offers free dance classes to older adults. The Founder of Dances for a Variable Population has two rules for the creativity of dance: “Have fun and don’t do anything beyond your limits.” Haas and her students offer the top three advantages of not only the movement of dance but also learning to appreciate personal beauty and one’s own body.
1. ‘You Recognize the Difference It Makes’.
Haas explained her philosophy of teaching dance: “There’s so much we can learn from dancing with each other. Also, by dance-making with each other, we gain an appreciation of our own body and beauty.” Some students come for the exercise benefits. “Once you pass a certain age, you realize you have to be in a physical program,” Haas observed. “You recognize the difference it makes. On a larger social level, the lack of movement is killing us.” DVP, which Haas founded in 2008, works with more than 45 senior centers and institutions. Movement Speaks, one of its programs, offers older adults and low-income communities free dance instruction. They also perform a public show of an original work created by class participants.
2. ‘Touch Is Life-giving’
While dance has health benefits for the body and mind, Haas emphasized that her goal is to inspire participants to move creatively and feel empowered by that movement. DVP classes also incorporate some partner work where people might briefly hold hands as they circle around each other on the floor. “Touch with someone else is life-giving,” Haas explained. At the end of class, the dancers divided themselves into groups of four. Each participant would lead a few times, and then pass the torch to the next person, so everyone got a chance to create a movement and follow their partners.
3. You Can Rediscover Dance
Students who had previously studied dance might find the class more doable than a class they would find in a traditional studio because DVP’s emphasis is on what you can do, not insisting that people attempt choreography that would be beyond their limits. Karen Beja, a 59-year-old school psychologist, began dancing with the group about three years ago. “I did a lot of dance as a young adult and I stopped in my late 30s and I miss it,” she explained. “Naomi has given me back movement.” In addition to keeping her mobile and flexible, Beja said, “It makes me feel joyful.”
Other advantages discovered by the class include the mental advantages of learning to improvise and memorize. Traditional dances often included improvisation but then remembering desired combinations of steps exercises brain muscles as well as leg and foot muscles. The diversity often found in the classes is also a huge social benefit. Not only is there a difference in gender and age but in culture and ethnicities. New relationships are made and friendships formed. Social interaction is a necessary part of living and the connections made through classes that encourage one’s creativity are paramount to good health.
UC-Berkley reported in 2014 that many studies have found dancing can improve balance, even in frail elderly people. Some have shown improvements in gait, walking speed, and reaction time, as well as cognitive and fine motor performance. Dance studies have included jazz, ballroom, tango, folk, and a series of slow, low-impact dance movements—though any kind of dancing would likely be beneficial. Interestingly, according to a review in the European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine in 2009, dancing may help people with Parkinson’s disease, which is characterized by rigid muscles, slowed movement, and impaired balance.
Dancing may also be good for your mood. It has been shown to reduce depression, anxiety, and stress and boost self-esteem, body image, coping ability, and overall sense of well-being, with the benefits lasting over time. In one study, it even helped control “emotional eating” in obese women who eat as a response to stress. The authors of a meta-analysis of 27 studies on the effectiveness of dance movement therapy, published in Arts in Psychotherapy this year, concluded that dancing should be encouraged as part of treatment for people with depression and anxiety.
If you can move, you can dance and you should. Let your creative spirit move and feel the benefits that dancing can bring to your life. There are dancing apps, some specially designed for older people of the informed, to assist you in being creative with dance. There’s no downside to incorporating dance into your regular physical activity routine, and it could help motivate you to get moving if you find other types of workouts, like treadmill walking or cycling, a little boring. You will not only get creatyive, you might even get healthier!