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Dancing towards youthfulness. The benefits of dance for older people


With the current success of the BBC programme ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ you may be led to believe that only fit, young celebrities can get the most out of regular dancing, but research by Dr Sara Houston, currently at the University of Surrey, shows otherwise. Older people, whatever their physical condition, can take part in dance and may reap many benefits from their participation.

The project took place over three years and saw a regular programme of dance introduced to around 40 voluntary participants at three sheltered housing units and one residential care home. The participants, aged between 70 and 90, likened the dance sessions to a way of regaining a sense of fun, youthfulness and sexiness. In addition to creating a sociable atmosphere, the sessions also led to participants maximising their dexterity and mobility whatever their physical condition.

The sessions were guided by a trained leader, but the participants themselves created the dances. This enabled them to ensure that everyone could take part, and also meant that the dances could have more personal meaning to the dancers. For example, they could create routines based upon their earlier experiences of work and family life.

One of the major reasons why participants did not take part in other organised dance programmes was problems with accessibility, in terms of both transport and timings. It was important, therefore, that these on-site dance programmes were continued by in-house staff members once the research period ended.

Dr Houston comments, “The project was valuable in that it was a good example of how dance need not be the preserve for the gifted young, that it can benefit the physical and psychological health of people whatever their age. The project was summed up by one of the participants who stated that she’d rather die dancing than alone in her room.”

Stuart Miller | alfa
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