Older Adults Shimmy Their Way to Health

dancing-oldsRobin Norris, the high-energy dance instructor at the Beaumont YMCA, shouts out instructions and encouragement to a room full of her 28 students – all women, none younger than 55 – who are screaming, shouting, laughing and clapping (when they’re not twirling, spinning and high kicking like a bunch of elder Rockettes) – and it’s only 10 o’clock in the morning.

“Use those arms! C’mon, attitude!” Norris cheerfully implores the class.

As songs (old-time standards to hip-hop remixes) bellow from a boombox, the women watch Norris’ every move, some classmates smiling, others intensely focusing on Norris’ footwork.

“C-mon, get that heart rate up. Jog your memory,” Norris shouts.

For 50 minutes, the women hoot and holler until the end-of-class stretching and socializing begins.

This group epitomizes the benefits of dancing for older adults – class members get a physical workout, stimulate their brains as they learn new dance steps and socialize with others.

And along with those benefits come another – performances!

The class has spawned the Flat Out Fun Dance Team, a 25-member troupe of women (and one man) up to 85 years old.

The team performs twice a month at area retirement communities, luncheons, volunteer recognitions and other gatherings.

Norris, 55, doubles as the dance team leader. A lifelong dancer who also teaches exercise classes at the Y, Norris also is the conditioning coach for the award-winning Dunbar High cheerleading team.

“We want the women to challenge themselves and do something different and that’s what has happened,” Norris said.

Two years ago, the team danced before 10,000 people at the Yum Center in Louisville at an event to celebrate Humana’s 50th anniversary. The governor, mayor of Louisville and other elected officials also attended the event.

The crowd stomped its feet, yelled its approval and gave the team a standing ovation.

“That was awesome,” said Marilyn Lippert, a 68-year-old team member.

Her teammates echoed that sentiment, saying the main point of the team is to encourage others to get up and dance.

“Our mission is to reach out to others of any age and let them know they can move. Even if you’re sitting in a wheelchair, you can move,” said Betty Walker, Norris’ 85-year-old mother.

“It’s really fun to do the exercises, and the class is like multi-tasking because you have to remember dance steps and learn new ones.”

These women know the value of exercise, but it’s the dancing that gets them to the YMCA.

“I’m not one to get on the floor and do exercises but if you put music on, I’ll get moving,” said Lippert, a retired medical technologist.

Nina O’Leary, the former longtime chief administrator for LYSA, agreed, saying, “I hate exercise. But I knew that dance would be fun, and now I love it. And I’ve met the greatest friends in the world.”

The women socialize outside of the class – the dance team has pot-luck dinners a couple of times a year – and the exercise bug has become contagious.

Some class members have taken other movement classes together at the Y, and a small group trained and ran in their first 5K this summer.

Nothing could make Norris happier.

“We have made a family,” she said. “This is everything I hoped it would be.”