Silver Swans

in Features

Movement, exercise or keeping fit is intrinsically linked to our physical, psychological and mental health wellbeing. Whether it is yoga, running or visiting the gym, the importance of finding our own preferred activity cannot be underestimated.

For an increasing number of women, the ballet classes aimed at females aged in their 50’s plus, called Silver Swans is a popular choice. 

The Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker Bowles is a fan of these dance classes. She has discussed attending the classes with friends and how much she enjoys them.

Barbara McDermott and Alison Garstin from Belfast both attend Silver Swans classes.

‘It was purely through serendipity that I came to ballet’ explains Barbara. ‘After retiring from a demanding job, I took up a ‘Wellness’ class, having been told it was based on contemporary dance. Initially surprised to hear strains of a Tchaikovsky piece and then being asked to take a place at the barre, it was soon apparent that I had joined a ballet class! A few months later I enrolled in the Clare Novaes Ballet School in Moira, taking the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus.

That was five years ago and I quickly became enthralled with the discipline of the movements, delightful music and the magic of expressing myself in this way.  I find huge benefits of ballet training in promoting increased physical energy, strength and endurance. 

Now at the age of 72, I am as busy as ever and enjoying the camaraderie of new ballet friends. It was purely through chance that I came to Ballet. After retiring from a demanding job, I took up a ‘Wellness ‘class  having been told it was based on Contemporary dance. Initially surprised to hear strains of a Tchaikovsky piece of music and then being asked to take a place at the barre, it was soon apparent that I had joined a ballet class! 

That was four years ago and I quickly became enthralled with the discipline of the movements, delightful music and the magic of expressing myself in this way. I am as busy as ever and enjoying the camaraderie with new ballet friends’.

For Alison Garstin, her main motivation was to find a pleasurable way of exercising which she would be familiar whilst incorporating her life-long love for ballet. ‘By chance I met one of  my old friends from ballet school days’, says Alison. ‘She encouraged me to join my teacher’s Laura’s Silver Swans which at first filled me with intrepidation. However, I need not have worried as Laura has perfectly pitched our weekly classes, now on zoom, to our abilities. 

I look forward to class and seeing old friends [we chat after class too].There is no doubt that my sense of balance and coordination have improved and as a result my confidence. I feel more mentally challenged by ballet compared to other forms of exercise which I have tried in the past and just love exercise to music. As for emotional benefits – well all I can say is that even though we take our classes fairly seriously, we have a lot of fun.

Now I am returning as a ‘Silver Swan’ at the age of 62! I certainly don’t look like one, but have renewed old friendships and rekindled my love for ballet. It seems like it is never too late!’

Jessica Angel, is an international artist working with photography, dance and moving image. Jessica thinks ‘Dance works at so many levels.  There is a myth in Europe, that if you didn’t start ballet at 4, and finish your training by 18 – then it’s not possible.  Apart from the sheer pleasure and joy that dance gives, ballet also taps into the neuro-plasticity of the mind and body. Ballet is a very specific discipline, and the exercises are really designed to build up strength and flexibility  in muscles that we are not accustomed to using in our day to day life – and  the sequencing of exercises build up co-ordination.   Combine the strength, flexibility and co-ordination and they allow us to create much better alignment that can really impact our posture and balance as we mature.  Add to this the fact that learning a new skill creates new neural pathways in the brain, in this case really connecting the brain with the physical body – allowing us to expand our cognitive capacity.  So ballet is a dance form that can really support us as we mature, and a dance form that we can master to our own level – building confidence and presence’.

RAD President Dame Darcey Bussell DBE says They Royal Academy of Dance is committed to promoting a love of dance in everyone, of any any age and of any ability, wherever you are across the globe. As the world-renowned home for dance, what a perfect way at this time to bring our expertise and passion to you wherever you are. Dance is such a creative, artistic activity that helps us all express our emotions while boosting positivity, wellbeing and keeping us fit’.

Rhea Sheedy, ballet dancer and Ballet Fusion founder, believes ‘Any type of physical movement is vital for women as we age but ballet can be particularly beneficial. With movements that focus on strengthening and building the muscles (and muscles many other exercises can’t target!), stretching and elongating muscles, as well as rapidly improving posture – adult ballet targets areas of the body that can weaken as we age. 

The great thing about adult ballet is the exercises aren’t strenuous meaning they’re low-impact and can be done by almost anyone – even those who are wheelchair-bound. It’s widely accepted that ballet participation can contribute to positive outcomes across various health and wellbeing areas and has been known to be especially effective for those with Parkinson’s disease.

If you are a newcomer, it is important to get started under the guidance of a professional to prevent injury. If ballet, perhaps, isn’t your thing, don’t worry because even getting up and having a dance can help release tension in the body and boost those ‘happy’ endorphins we all love.’

Royal Academy of Dance website:  

www.royalacademyofdance.org/silverswans

Rhea Sheedy website: 

www.balletfusion.co.uk

Jessica Angel website:  

www.jessicaangel.com

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