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Chair Ballet for Seniors

By Helene Scheff, Guest Blogger

When I moved into a senior community, I was faced with the fact that there was one chair “exercise” session per week and it didn’t include movement. The instructor had music playing but the exercises and movement had nothing to do with the music that was playing. Not wanting to cause anyone to lose their job, I held back criticism of what was taught and how. Once or twice the participants asked if I could conduct “something” during the time the instructor was supposed to be “teaching” the class. Because I love the art and craft of teaching dance, I asked the head of activities if I could conduct a class. I was happy to serve a need and so Ballet Chair Exercise was born.


Now, a year and a half later, we have specific meeting times and do the class in the library space. Those participants who can stand for longer periods of time are finding that the more they attempt the more they can do, AND they are eager to share with their fellow residents. Our oldest “regular” is 96 years old. One of the participants lives with multiple physical difficulties but WOW does she know what she is doing; she tries everything, and is able to accomplish most movement tasks. Attitude is everything!


The group has participated in National Water Dance Day and will do so this year as well. Those who can, do the movement that they help create while standing. I use Ballet Barre music for the seated exercise and switch to Broadway tunes for standing and moving. Their current favorite is the music from Ragtime.


Following are some quotes from participants in the class:

“Going to class, learning, and remembering helps me remember other things more easily.” –Dotty, age 86

“[Dancing] makes me feel more alive, and I can use my body to express myself and stay awake.” –Sonya, age 96

“Going through the exercises is calming and I can repeat them in my apartment.” –Phyllis, age 80


You can dance at any age and with any range of abilities. Dancing—or moving in general—helps with activities of daily living, improves and strengthens the mind/body connection, and adds joy to life.


Experiencing DanceHelene Scheff is a lifelong dancer and dance educator. She is a founding member of the National Dance Education Organization and co-author of many books, most recently Experiencing Dance, Second Edition (Human Kinetics, 2014).