Danceworks

Joy. Health. Creativity.

Aging Gracefully

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In honor of Danceworks’ 20th Anniversary, we are sharing 20 stories of individuals who have made an impact on—or who have been impacted by—Danceworks and our programs. This is the seventh in our series, “20 Years, 20 Stories.”

If you want to know the secret to aging gracefully, you don’t have to look too much further than Danceworks 50+ classes. There are shining examples everywhere you look. Along with healthy attitudes about life in general, you’ll discover contagious laughter and bold enthusiasm for life.

I noticed one of our regular 50+ students wasn’t around last week and found out she was dealing with some nagging pain that was keeping her from the four classes she takes each week. I gave her a call to check in and see if maybe since she wasn’t able to dance right now, she might like to talk about it.

I dialed her number, and Natalie Lloyd-Jones took my call.

“I really miss it!” she said right away. “I don’t like exercise! I dance and it’s so much fun. That, to me, is not exercise.”

Natalie, far left in the red shirt, during a 50+ Ballet class at Danceworks

Natalie, far left in the red shirt, during a 50+ Ballet class at Danceworks

Natalie was a kindergarten teacher at MPS Washington Irving on N. 35th Street for many, many years. She had always wanted to take Ballet but never had the chance.

“I just love Ballet for its beauty! I tried Jazz and other things but it wasn’t for me. The Ballet class I took years ago had mostly 20- and 30-year-olds in it. I didn’t feel like I fit in. I got into Tap by a fluke. You offered a 50+ Tap class and I signed up!”

Before I started at Danceworks, Polly Morris had received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts to start a 50+ Initiative at Danceworks. This support made it possible for Danceworks to provide multi-arts programming in Milwaukee County senior sites and other older adult facilities. Amy Brinkman-Sustache jumped right on the idea and suggested the studio offer 50+ dance classes as well. The first of these classes was 50+ Tap.

Natalie at the Barre in her 50+ Ballet class.

Natalie at the Barre in her 50+ Ballet class.

“I liked it a lot but I kept asking for 50+ Ballet—and then finally I got my wish!”

Today, 10 years later, Natalie takes two Ballet and two Tap classes each week.

“It’s the teachers—you have the most incredible teachers. Oh, that Melissa and wow, that Amy! What makes them good is that they listen to you. If there’s a particular way that you learn, they incorporate it into their teaching style. I learn audibly and visually. You can’t just tell me to listen, you have to show me.”

“If I say—that hurts!—they’ll say, ‘then try it this way.’ They have alternatives and they remember. That means a lot to me, because as a teacher I know people learn differently. Everyone has their own style of teaching, but good teachers incorporate what helps different students. That’s the difference between a mediocre and a great teacher. Students won’t usually tell you what they need, but good teachers can figure it out.”

Brenna McGee is a Danceworks 50+ Student and Columbia St. Mary’s Urgent Care Nurse. She stops by Danceworks each week as she can fit it in. She is also a member of Milwaukee Set Dance Club

Brenna McGee is a Danceworks 50+ Student and Columbia St. Mary’s Urgent Care Nurse. She stops by Danceworks each week as she can fit it in. She is also a member of Milwaukee Set Dance Club

“We all like each other at Danceworks. These are my friends. If someone in class doesn’t get something, we encourage each other. In dance class, you just want to be friends with everyone–you all have something in common. These are active people–real doers. People with outside interests, professionals, people from all different walks of life. They travel, study….I love these people. If someone new comes in, you just know you’re going to like that person. I even know a handwriting analyst! I never knew one before! Veterinarians, doctors, nurses, lawyers, people who own their own studios. There are top people in their fields in these classes.”

“Dancers walk taller. It’s an inspiration to get up in the morning. I say–oh good, today I have Tap and Ballet! I can walk to Danceworks. I’m always so glad for Monday. As a teacher I would say, ‘Yippeee‘ for snow days, be so grateful for the weekend. But Danceworks! Why, you’re not allowed to close!”

So, if any of you have always wanted to take a class but thought you were too old, too out of shape or whatever excuse you might be using, I hope Natalie inspires you to change your mind. 

Thanks for sharing your contagious enthusiasm, Natalie, every time you step through our doors. And most of all, thank you for setting an example of what it means to age gracefully.

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