Oklahoma City Ballet offers a class to help seniors stay fit

The Golden Swans class at The Fountains at Canterbury helps seniors maintain a healthy lifestyle. (Stephanie Pitts / provided)

The Golden Swans class at The Fountains at Canterbury helps seniors maintain a healthy lifestyle. (Stephanie Pitts / provided)

It’s never too late to become a ballerina.

Residents at The Fountains at Canterbury retirement home stretch their dance muscles with Oklahoma City Ballet’s Golden Swans class.

“I think I’ve learned more from them than they’ve learned from me,” said teacher and longtime dance instructor Laura Ward. “My students are in their late 70s to early 90s, but when they’re in class, it’s like they’re ageless.”

Enter The Fountains on a Wednesday, and you’ll find OKC’s local elders pliéing and gliding across the floor to the same classical music professional ballerinas use during rehearsals.

“This is all about creating an authenticity for the students,” she said. “I incorporate a series of stretches, dances and opportunities for freestyle that let students feel like they’re truly part of the OKC Ballet.”

The class was initiated in December as part of OKC Ballet’s growing list of outreach programs, and The Fountains at Canterbury was chosen due to its strong support of OKC Ballet.

“A group of folks at The Fountains sponsor a young dancer from OKC Ballet, and she came to perform a number for the whole center recently,” Ward said. “After her performance, people at OKC Ballet and The Fountains wanted to create a program that involved its seniors more actively.”

Golden Swans is a way for seniors to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Stretches and light exercises keep students flexible and strong, and the added ballet element makes them stay.

The Golden Swans class is one of Oklahoma City Ballet's many outreach programs. (Stephanie Pitts / provided)

The Golden Swans class is one of Oklahoma City Ballet’s many outreach programs. (Stephanie Pitts / provided)

“Each week, the classes grow larger and larger,” Ward said. “I can’t talk about it without smiling. I’ve gotten to witness each individual become more confident and develop their love for ballet by actually performing it.”

The popularity of Golden Swans quickly grew. No prerequisites are required to join Golden Swans, and Ward tailors each exercise according to her student needs.

“At the beginning of each class, I start with basic stretches while watching how each student responds,” she said. “I structure classes based on each individual’s abilities while still creating an environment that will challenge students and inspire creativity.”

Balance and coordination dwindle with age, so Ward seeks to supplement these facts of life with different weekly classes.

“Even though my students are seniors, I still teach the core principles of ballet,” she said. “I use the proper names for each movement, incorporate the bar into each lesson and eventually encourage a freestyle portion of the class where students can use the entire floor. It’s a unique and educational experience for everyone.”

“Each week, the classes grow larger and larger,” Ward said. “I can’t talk about it without smiling." (Stephanie Pitts / provided)

“Each week, the classes grow larger and larger,” Ward said. “I can’t talk about it without smiling.” (Stephanie Pitts / provided)

Although Golden Swans is in its fledgling year, Ward said the rewards of teaching ballet to enthusiastic seniors have already manifested.

“[In December], during the intermission of an OKC Ballet production, I ran into an entire row of my Golden Swans students in the theater,” she said. “I was absolutely elated to see that the class has motivated them to go see ballet. They told me watching professional dancers made them want to continue the class. It doesn’t get better than that.”

Thanks to Golden Swans’ rapid success, Ward anticipates more classes for senior citizens throughout the local area.

“This is a great way for seniors to feel involved in the arts and to try something different in their later years,” she said. “I have a blast teaching them and hope to see this program grow.”

Visit okcballet.org.

Print headline: Golden dancers, Oklahoma City Ballet offers a class to help seniors stay fit

Jessica Williams

This article was written by an Oklahoma Gazette contributor. To reach an editor, please email jchancellor@okgazette.com with this story's headline in your subject line.

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