Jun 14, 2009

Ballet at My Age….Oh My!

The magic of classical music and dance is ageless and becomes the perfect medium for an exercise program for the elderly.
By Sheila Lehner

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The bright cheery day room of the nursing home was full of residents who had been brought there to spend their afternoon. Some were sleeping. Many were just staring blankly. A few were pacing. Music was playing but no one was listening.

The group’s leader comes into the room and turns off the music. She greets the group warmly first as a whole and then individually smiling and making eye contact with each member of the ‘class’.

The ‘teacher’ then announces that some great music is in store for them. The music begins. “Listen! Can everyone hear it?” she asks. “Isn’t it beautiful? It makes you want to dance!” she says or indicates by her movements and body language.

“Ready? Reach those arms up high and then down. Stretch them up, up ,up! Oh that feels so good! Doesn’t it?” And so the Benevolent Ballet-Fall Prevention for the Elderly class has begun.

Most of the group is participating. Those who were just watching join in with a bit of hand to hand, eye to eye and heart to heart encouragement.

After a few more slow stretching exercises the music changes to an up beat tempo. Again the ‘students’’ attention is directed towards the music.

“Listen!….Here’s some good toe tapping music” And we have rhythmic toe and heel drops, marching, knee slaps and claps right up to the end of the tract. They rest happy and worn out. Sometimes there is a round of applause.

“Is everyone breathing?” One resident comments “I certainly hope so!” After some deep breathing the class continues at a slower pace for thirty minutes more.

At this point brightly colored scarves are passed out. With the music as their guide the class is asked to paint the sky with their colors filling the room with color. They can make any design the music inspires them to. At this point magic happens. Faces are transformed as the residents (men and women alike) perform exquisite, perfectly timed movements. Then it is time to say good bye but not without ballet dancer’s ritual reverence (bow).

At the end of every class the group mimes “From my heart to yours.Thank you!”

It is the connecting, sharing and caring that makes a program work. The leader’s enthusiasm, passion and joy become contagious. As long as the potential participants feel safe from failure or harm they will join in and enjoy. The energy goes back and forth inspiring both the leader and the class. This empathic engagement can contribute to the success of most programming as well as residents Activities of Daily Living.

Sheila Lehner is the founder of the Benevolent Ballet-Fall Prevention for the Elderly program. Healthcare professionsionals in 11 states have been trained to implement this unique exercise protocol in their facilities. When used regularly up to an 80% reduction in falls has been reported.

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Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room