To hear our hearts speak: Croydon’s later life dancers

By - Wednesday 28th May, 2014

Arriving late to the dance, Catherine Pestano reports on a journey of many steps

Many students are in their fifties, sixties, and seventies.
Photo by Charlotte Desorgher used with permission.

After a substantial knee injury and passing my half century, I thought I should look into ways to keep fit without becoming bored or falling off the exercise wagon – again. Recent TV programmes including Channel 4′s Big Ballet and BBC1′s Sadlers Wells Company of Elders got me thinking about dance. Now I never did trot around in a tutu as a girl, so this was a little scary. However, I have had a wonderful time visiting some local dance opportunities in Croydon! I’d like to share some of these with you.

Circle dance sounded intriguing and gentle, so I hobbled my way to Croydon’s Circle Dance Group, still in some knee and back pain. I was encouraged to think that many participants had mobility problems when they started. They found the simple movements help restore ease and reduce their pain. It is also fine to sit and watch for part of the session if I couldn’t manage.

Dance helps break the isolation that elders can experience

Although the class is two hours long, the pace is very gentle but I still felt I had worked and there is a nice break half way through for tea and cake. It appeals to the need for a general spiritual expression as well, though you are not required to believe anything in particular; it just naturally has that quality within the movements. I would describe it as a session of graceful joy. Day and evening sessions are available.

For elders, dance brings fun, laughter and well-being.
Photo by Aimee Stevens, used with permission

Next I met Gemma of Slide dance at Croydon’s Brit School, who told me: ‘Dance for all ages is essential, but for elders it brings fun, laughter and well being. It is a social activity, breaking isolation and loneliness’. Slide is an inclusive local dance company, and Gemma has also run wonderful inclusive contemporary dance sessions for both able-bodied and disabled people at the South Norwood Arts Festival (SNAF)and provides dance sessions for people with Parkinson’s Disease. She is currently setting up a daytime contemporary dance class for adults, with no experience needed, in partnership with Croydon community music group CRISP.

Bellydancers can perform into their sixties – although they modify the sequins a bit!

Sensuality is something I associate with the next dance form of belly dance, but it also brings core stability, spine and hip health. Next I met Charlotte Desorgher of Hipsinc, a group offering classes at the Fairfield Halls, who comments, ‘I have many students in their fifties, sixties even seventies. Bellydancing is perfect for older ladies – not too physically demanding but keeps muscles and joints strong and flexible. Dance doesn’t just benefit the body – it improves mood, helps keep the mind active and alert and is wonderful for making new friends at any age’.

Charlotte says of herself: ‘Bellydancing is one of the few dance forms accessible to older women. I continued to perform professionally right into my mid-fifties and it was only a torn cartilage that made me finally decide last year to hang up the sequins. Many top class bellydancers continue to perform professionally in their fifties and sixties, although we do modify the costuming a bit!’

People with dementia and their partners can also enjoy an adapted form of dancing together and in a circle. The local Croydon dementia dance service is part of the London Week of Creativity and Wellbeing. Founder of Circle Dance for Dementia Cynthia Heymanson shares a user’s comment: ‘I thought I had lost everyone and then suddenly I had all these people again’. The videos on this website give hope and inspiration about this enjoyable shared experience and I am reminded of the beautiful Hopi Native American saying: ‘To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak’.

Croydon’s Day of Dance will offer opportunities for adult beginners

If you’d like to find out more about dancing, whatever your age, look out for Croydon’s Day of Dance, to be held on July 12th 2014 (contact information below). It will provide opportunities to try out many easily accessible dance forms including adult beginners ballet, Irish, circle and contemporary dance and bellydancing. All are suitable for new dancers with no childhood experience.

Age UK in Croydon and the University of the Third Age (U3A) also offer a range of movement classes at affordable prices, including Zumba Gold, Strictly sequence dancing and line dancing. Classes to support balance and movement as well as self-expression can support overall wellbeing and independence as we mature.

Dance provides a gentle way into an enjoyable later life. Click here for information about local places most suitable for later life starters, or for a comprehensive list of smaller independent and newer initiatives email 

Catherine Pestano

Catherine Pestano

Catherine Pestano grew up in Sutton (standing for Labour), went to school in Carshalton, and college in Croydon. She loves Croydon, her vibrant home town of 17 years, where she works as a Nordic walking instructor and co-ordinator of community arts for well-being. She has a nostalgic fondness for her Brownie and Girl Guide Handbooks and all things Scouting-related. Campfire singing a speciality!

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  • Anne Giles

    This sounds really exciting!!!

  • Rosie E

    Hi Catherine this is inspiring. Was that the Circle Dance group that meets at Parish Church School in Waddon?

    • lizsheppardjourno

      I’ve been asked by Catherine Pestano to respond to this. Yes, it is the same group. You can check out the Huddlers Circle Dance online and it will take you straight to their listings. Hope that’s helpful, Rosie E :)

      • Rosie E

        many thanks