How does ballet benefit the older learner?
Ballet. You might think of athletic young dancers, leaping and twirling, all with seemingly endless energy. But recently, there has been a new wave of dancers: the over 55s.
The importance of exercise for both mental and physical wellbeing has been explored by several newspapers and TV programmes in recent years, such as Angela Rippon’s BBC documentary How to Stay Young. There have also been research projects that have examined the benefits of dance.
In the 2008 National Health Survey, only 17% of men and 13% of women over the age of 65 years met the minimum adult exercise recommendations made by the Chief Medical Officer. However, the proportion who met these recommendations declined with age.
With the Royal Academy of Dance launching their Silver Swans ballet classes internationally at the start of September – and Angela Rippon announced as ambassador for this scheme – we will take a look at the evidence for the benefits of dance, particularly in relation to the over 55s. If you are interested in finding out more about the RADs Silver Swans classes and where your nearest class is, visit their website.
We have also pulled together a collection of dancewear if you are looking for what to wear to ballet class. Please scroll to the bottom of this article.
1.Improving balance and muscle strength
Falls can be a concern as we get older – according to NHS Choices, “around one in three adults over 65 who live at home will have at least one fall a year, and about half of these will have more frequent falls”.
There are several causes of falls, but poor balance and muscle weakness can increase the risk. Because of this, the NHS recommends participating in “exercise to improve your strength and balance”. Regular dance activity naturally increases strength – and without it feeling like exercise in the way that going to the gym might.
2. Social contact
According to Age UK, over 200,000 older people say that they haven’t had a conversation with friends or family for a month, while 3.9 million older people agree that television is their main form of company. There is evidence to suggest that loneliness has a negative effect on overall health and, consequently, the importance of regular social contact is increasingly understood. Ballet classes are a great way of making new friends while participating in an enjoyable, shared activity.
Dancing is a natural instinct – just think how babies react to music!
An article in the Telegraph explained that, “Experiments have proved the cognitive benefits of dancing.” Researchers at York and Sheffield Universities played music for five minutes to a group of people. They could sit and listen to the music, listen while cycling on a exercise bike, or start dancing to the music. Both before and after, the group were given cognitive tasks.
Dr Peter Lovatt, a dance psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, said: “All those who chose to dance displayed improved problem-solving skills afterwards. This same study also found that the mood levels of the dancers went up. It shows that dancing along to music even for five minutes can boost happiness and improve creative-thinking patterns.”
4. Stress and anxiety
Exercise naturally lowers cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and releases endorphins (the feel-good hormone) into the bloodstream. According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. Or, if your body feels better, so does your mind… Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilise mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.”
And just to add…
Not only have dance classes for the more mature learner become popular, there has also been research into the benefits of dance for Parkinson’s and dementia sufferers. Earlier this year, Scottish Ballet was awarded £150,000 by Life Changes Trust in order to become dementia-friendly. As part of this grant, they began a high-profile scheme offering ballet classes for people with dementia. Scottish Ballet have also been running Dance for Parkinson’s classes twice a week.
Please note that before participating in any dance activity, it is always recommended that you speak with your GP or healthcare professional first.
What to wear to your class…
Once you have located a suitable class you may be wondering what to wear. Dance schools will generally be flexible with your dance attire, as long as you are comfortable and your clothes allow you to move freely. However it is worth considering that most dance teachers will prefer you not to wear clothes that are too baggy, so they are able to see the line of your body while you are dancing and make appropriate corrections.
We stock a lovely selection of ladies’ dancewear up to a UK size 18, including leggings, tights, tops, skirts and wraps, that will allow you the flexibility and freedom to focus on your dancing. We also stock an extensive range of ballet shoes, although you may prefer to wear a teaching or jazz shoe rather than ballet shoe to provide slightly more support.
These split-sole ballet shoes are truly stunning with a beautiful floral insert and include pre-sewn elastics so you don’t need to worry about sewing the elastics.
If you are looking for slightly more support the Freed teaching shoe may be the shoe for you. They have a low block heel, supple leather uppers and a stylish leather cross strap and are often worn by dance teachers looking for day-to-day comfort whilst teaching.
You won’t be expected to wear a leotard to your class. However if you feel comfortable wearing a leotard we do have some lovely long-sleeved options and would recommend the Roch Valley Martene, which is available in a range of sizes and a choice of 13 colours including black, pink and white.
You may feel more comfortable in a loose fitting top and perhaps a sports bra underneath. We recommend the Dans-Ez minimal bounce bra top available in 4 colours, and the Ballet Rosa Sayaka wrap top in black or white.
Dresses and skirts are a lovely option for ballet class as they will flow with you as you dance. We can recommend the Toshimi dress and the Lolita dress both from Ballet Rosa. We also love the So Danca long black crepe wrap over skirt, which looks lovely over tights or leggings.
As the Autumn and Winter months approach you may wish to stock up on tights, leggings and maybe even these rollover knitted pants. And layer up with a cardigan or sweatshirt. Dance studios are not always the warmest of places!