One of the most important tenants of the Open Floor movement practice is to make dance accessible to everyone, regardless of age.
Our movement practice is offered in a way that includes all limitations and boundaries of the body and that allows for the freedom and flexibility to move and dance for a lifetime. Open Floor is designed to be an applicable embodiment practice for 6-year-olds and 90- year-olds alike.
We like to use the phrase “Dance for Life.”
We got a chance to speak with two teachers who are doing inspiring work with senior students. Both Kerry-Ann Stanton from New Zealand and Aileen Reid from Scotland agree that working with older populations is an incredibly rewarding application of their Open Floor Teacher Training.
Kerry-Ann Stanton, has been designing classes specifically for elder movers since before she even completed her training. She says that she wants to bring her love for dance to people her age. She can’t remember ever not dancing. So, when Open Floor teacher training came to New Zealand she knew it was something she wanted to do. In 2012 Kerry-Ann started a project called Dance Mobility, offering dance classes for older dancers. Over the years, the project has changed but the intent has not: dance, no matter how old you are. In 2018, she became an Open Floor teacher and now merges Open Floor movement practice with the Dance Mobility work. Kerry-Ann says that her weekly dances bring a mixed crowd: people who have never danced, those who have danced their whole lives, and people who are simply curious about moving.
Halfway across the world, Aileen Reed is working in assisted living facilities with seniors who have either lost the mental or physical capacity to live on their own. She conducts all of her classes with students sitting in chairs. She works with music that has nostalgia and meaning to her groups as a tool to invoke emotion and movement. She says that the primary aspect of Open Floor that she calls on in her work are the four Relational Hungers (Solitude, Connection, Belonging, and Spirit).
Kerry-Ann says that she relies on the Core Movement Resources from Open floor to help her students because they are so easy to explain. She says her students are often nervous about “getting it right”. But, they quickly learn that in Kerry-Ann’s classes she doesn’t care about right or wrong.
It’s the movement that matters.
Since Aileen’s students are sitting in chairs in a circle, she describes many unique ways she invites connection and a sense of belonging. “For connection, I use a swaying motion with the arms. Sometimes they crash into each other. Which certainly gives them a sense of others around them. But, sometimes their arms move in a kind of flow. A synchronicity. A togetherness.” To encourage belonging, she weaves between the music and the movement. She has them tapping or stomping out rhythms or little bits of choreography with their feet so they can feel themselves moving in the group body. She says this uses all the senses to cultivate belonging. You can feel your feet, you can see the collective movement and you can hear the community – our feet together. I bring it in, I say ‘listen to us like a herd of elephants’ And that brings in the laughter, too. ”
Laughter is movement. Breathing is movement. Every little piece, gesture, facial expression our senior and elder students offer is movement practice. And, their contribution is remarkable and valuable however small or simple.
Kerry-Ann says one of her goals is to make it impossible not to come to her classes. When they come her students know, “you take care of yourself.” And, it’s okay if you are tired or tearful. All is welcome. “It just means it’s your turn this week.” There is permission to show up and be with whatever is real for you.
This is certainly true for Aileen’s students. She speaks to the obvious transformations she sees in the group after a class. She says when she comes, in people are in their own worlds, inward and sluggish. After a class she describes a vitality and fullness to her students. She explains how they inhabit their whole beings differently after time in movement practice..
Aileen loves working with her elder students because of this transformation. Her reason for doing this work is also deeply personal. She says bringing some joy, music and movement into the residential living facilities is a way of honoring her elders and those who have lived long lives – 80, 90, years for some of them. And, it’s a commitment and investment in her future self. She imagines growing older and living as a single woman without children and knowing how much she will someday value and desire the kind of inclusion she is bringing to her own students today.
Kerry-Ann also describes her work as a teacher as a sort of selfish act. She does it for herself as well. “It’s the most joyful part of my week. I come out feeling alive and restored. I love teaching this age group.” Kerry Ann loves working with who she lovingly calls “oldies,” because they are real. She says they are fun and responsive students to work with. They are willing to play and give it a go.
So no matter what your age and what your body can do, put on your favorite music now and give it a go: join us and Dance for Life!