The seniors classes are full every week Queensland Ballet’s West End studios. (Supplied: Ali Cameron)
Ballet classes are making older Australians feel happier, more energetic and generally healthier a new study has found, and participants are raving of the benefits.
Queensland Ballet and Queensland University of Technology (QUT) researchers have conducted an Australian-first study into the benefits of ballet for seniors, encouraged by the man known to many as Mao’s Last Dancer.
Artistic director at Queensland Ballet, Li Cunxin, said the seniors classes were started three years ago to give older members of the community a chance to experience the benefits of ballet.
“This is a dream come true moment for some of them. They aspire to be a ballerina and to dance in a professional environment, and this is it,” Li said.
At 62, Vicki Wilson said the classes were a highlight of her week.
“It makes me feel beautiful … it’s just the most wonderful time of our lives,” she said.
“It’s just the most amazing feeling to have in Brisbane, Australia, that we have got this level of class that so many wonderful women can come to every week and just be themselves.”
Sixty-six-year-old Ross Clarke agrees.
“This is something I always wanted to do and never had the opportunity when I was young,” he said.
“I just love the movement and the dance and the grace,” said Leona Romaniuk, 69.
“I feel wonderful, I just feel young.”
Li Cunxin, known to many as Mao’s Last Dancer, has had a long and diverse career as an internationally acclaimed dancer. (Supplied: Ali Cameron)
Li said the classes aimed to simply get people moving while having fun.
“For them to realise how they can use their body and move in the most beautiful way … and at the same time when they come out they feel like their muscles have been worked,” he said.
“These days people spend a lot of time going to the gym, or swimming or running or the bikes … there’s nothing better than ballet.”
Research finds love of ballet key
The QUT and Queensland Ballet research project began in 2017 to critically investigate older adults’ motivations to participate in ballet, and its health and wellbeing outcomes.
Professor Gene Moyle, head of the School of Creative Practice at QUT’s Creative Industries faculty, said focus groups of participants in the classes were interviewed and surveyed before and after a three month ballet class program.
The project found participants experienced higher energy levels, greater flexibility, improved posture, and an enhanced sense of achievement. (Supplied: Queensland Ballet)
The research report found a love of ballet played “a significant role in their motivation” and the participants “tended to be people who had danced when they were young girls and women”.
It said the classes were making a difference for the older dancers physically, emotionally and mentally.
“Participating in ballet classes led to positive wellbeing outcomes as perceived by the participants, particularly: feeling more energetic/animated, keeping in shape, bodily control/awareness, posture, flexibility, physical wellbeing, and overall wellbeing,” the report said.
“Challenging movements and sequences led to an increased sense of achievement and happiness, suggesting that rising to challenges is more pleasurable than working at an already achievable level.”
Professor Moyle said the study not only helped students, but also informed teachers about how they could adapt classes for seniors.
“We know that anecdotally, but it was really, really critical to actually put some evidence behind this and use it as a foundation for further research,” she said.
“So that’s actually a pedagogy thing for dance teaching that’s a side benefit.
“What’s been really lovely to see is that it is making such a contribution to their lives broader than just what we’re looking at from a research perspective — the social connections and sense of community.
“I think it’s really lovely that we’re seeing women and men that are engaging in these classes right through to older age.”
The study found the seniors were motivated to join the classes by their love of ballet to start with but also their ability to connect socially. (Supplied: Queensland Ballet)