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  • Andreah Barker

3 Lessons I Learned While Dancing with Older Adults

I have been a dancer all my life. My parents shared stories about how I used to dance around the house or in the rain or on the front lawn; I danced everywhere. At school I practiced tap routines under my desk, which is a difficult thing to do in a portable because they tend to shake easily with any sort of movement. Needless to say, I mastered the art of the quietest tap dance rehearsal ever!


In my late twenties, having been a choreographer and dancer that still wasn’t succeeding at supporting herself with her craft I began to contemplate next steps. 30 year olds had real careers, right?!? So, I went back to school and got a Master’s Degree in Dance, studying the history and practice of dance/movement therapy in Canada. It was hands-down one of the best experiences of my life, but then again I’ve always loved school.


While researching my thesis I volunteered at Baycrest, a research and teaching hospital for the elderly in Toronto and then was subsequently hired to take on the dance/movement therapy position which I held for five years. During that time I learned a lot, not just about myself but the world around me. Here are a few of the amazing lessons I’ve learned while dancing with some super inspiring people*:


1. Elise - 100 years old - She almost never missed one of my sessions. She was there rain or shine, pain or no pain, tired or filled with energy. She supported me with a smile, even in the early days, when I was nervous and new. One day as I sat down beside her, she said to me, “I want to share a piece of advice with you: Make sure everyone you meet in the day feels better for having seen you.”

This is the absolute best advice ever. We will always need more of this in the world. Choose kindness! And if you can’t choose kindness in the moment have the courage and the strength to simply walk away.


2. Dana - 92 years old - Dana was a powerhouse! She used to be a performer in her youth, but she was a dancer all her life. When I approached her to choreograph a duet with me, she thought about it for a minute. The she suddenly looked at me with bright eyes and began sharing all of her ideas. There were some days when I think I turned up to our weekly rehearsals with less energy than she did. And when it came to costuming… of course we were wearing the short shorts!


I learned that you are never too old to keep creating. So keep creating for yourself and for the world around you. You never know who you’ll inspire.


3. Mark - 84 years old - After suffering a massive stroke that left Mark paralyzed on the right side, he knew he couldn’t give up. There was still life to live and so he taught himself to paint with his non-dominant hand. He worked at it every week and with the support of a very talented art therapist, he got better and better. I now have one of his beautiful pieces hanging on my wall to serve as a reminder to not let life’s circumstances stop me from doing what I love. No excuses! I have also taken up painting and love it. It often serves to inspire my storytelling.


The final lesson I want to share with you comes from me: Never discount someone because of their age. Young or old or somewhere in-between, we all have gifts to share.



*Names and details changed for privacy.

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