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How dance took Elizabeth smiling into her 10th decade
Date posted: 23 October 2018
As People Dancing launches an online learning programme for dancing with older people, Elizabeth Janis has just celebrated her 90th birthday. She credits the discovery of a local dance group for her continued love for life
Elizabeth Janis. Photo Gemma Smith

Joining ‘Step in Time’ pulled me out of the lethargy I felt after a bout of ill health, when everything was just too much effort. I’d never considered myself a dancer in the true sense of the word – just a bit of ballroom stuff in my younger days and I once invested two precious sixpences in tap dancing lessons when I was an evacuee. Our group meets at the Paignton Parish Hall, which has a formidable way in down two short flights of concrete steps, but as my doctor daughter pointed out: “The entrance is part of your therapy.”

Early in 2017, recovering from serious illness, I received a phone call from my doctor asking whether I believed in music being therapeutic. I replied: “Yes,” because it’s always been a belief of mine that music can sooth the soul in times of despair. She told me that, if I ‘fulfilled the criteria’, I would get a phone call inviting me to a class devoted to actually moving to music. I wasn’t told what the ‘criteria’ were though I rather suspect they included not actually dying while you were doing it.

It was extremely difficult at first to make the twice weekly journey to the bus stop, then from the bus station a considerable walk to the meeting place. Yet the discipline gave me a sense of purpose and, yes, even a certain feeling of success. Much of the early meetings consisted of seated arm movements, then graduating to seated foot movements, then standing behind a chair to get even more adventurous! Little by little our amazing dance leaders introduced a wider programme which, with a great deal of laughter, meant that as a group we really were dancers (or a special kind).

All the movement was prescriptive and careful, thought had gone in to using the right muscles in the right way. We were always being told: “If it’s a bit much, try it sitting down.” So we were never pushed beyond our comfort zone. It was so much fun because nobody felt stupid at being less able; we were in it together. Class over, we were treated to coffee and biscuits and cake and did the ‘getting to know you’ bit.

So, if I were ever asked: “What makes a good class?” my answer would be something like: “Like-minded people of similar ability guided by instructors who read their participants correctly and combine encouragement with enormous patience, as well as having an extremely knowledgeable insight into the individuals they’re dealing with.” 

  

Of course, it goes without saying that the music has to be right to fit the mood and the movement. In our case the choice was often late-popular (if you know what I mean). The benefits of this kind of ‘treatment’ are countless. In my case, I wouldn’t say the physical outcome has made an enormous difference (I still can’t run upstairs) but the mental, psychological impact has been immeasurable. To feel still part of society; to have a group of fun friends who seem to see you and miss you if you don’t turn up to class. In the case of our group, much fun and a sense of well-being has been added by actually PERFORMING IN PUBLIC (!!!) This has been at the Agatha Christie Festival for the last two years and even doing ‘Car Wash’ on Torquay sea front, during the Grinagog Festival. 

I will always be grateful to those wonderful ladies who work so hard to make our sessions, not forgetting the incredible volunteer ladies who come to support those who otherwise need propping up with walking sticks. Our leader, Clare Parker, is a gem. Nothing is too much trouble and she never shows impatience when you get it wrong. Tamsin, her right hand ‘man’ and the other specialists they bring in from time to time are all a fantastic bunch. They have my love and gratitude for opening a new door for me – even at 90.


Elizabeth Janis
A member of Step in Time, a dance and falls prevention programme led by Clare Parker in Paignton, Devon. The programme was originally initiated by Dance in Devon as Best Foot Forward. Classes offer strength and balance through dance for older people at risk of a fall.


‘Introduction to Leading Dance with Older People’ is a new online learning programme developed by People Dancing and authored by leading dance practitioner Diane Amans. Click here to find out more and to purchase at £55 for People Dancing members and £65 for non-members (discounts are also available for group purchases for six people or more).

 

Photos show:

Top banner pic - Dance in Devon's Best Foot Forward group perform choreography by Richard Chappell as part of the International Agatha Christie Festival 2017 (Elizabeth Janis is shown second left); photo by My Little Eye Photography

Portrait pic - Elizabeth Janis (left); photo by Gemma Smith

Lower pic - Elizabeth Janis (right) at a Dance in Devon Best Foot Forward session, 2018; photo by Gemma Smith.