Senior citizens get fit through dance movements

There was a lot of toe tapping, arm swinging and high energy in the Swyer Studio behind the National

There was a lot of toe tapping, arm swinging and high energy in the Swyer Studio behind the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs as local seniors stepped in time to Zumba, a free upbeat fitness class sponsored by MVP Gold.

The studio was full with about 30 dancers, including Kurt Koulos, a Saratoga Springs resident who has been coming to class about two years with his girlfriend, Cherie Davenport.

Davenport was in a car accident. “This class helps heal me. It keeps me moving,” she said.

Having a good time

Koulos, who drives her to class, chimed in that she “drags him here” but once the music began it was apparent he was having a good time.

The fun of exercising to dance movements was a motivating factor for many in the class. Leslie Himelrick from South Glens Falls said she had three surgeries on her neck and back. “This class is wonderful. I’ve lost 30 pounds in three years and toned my muscles,” she said. “I’m doing dance movements. It’s not like exercise. It’s fun,” the 62-year-old added.

Certified fitness instructor Patty Brown begins the hour-long session with Latin rhythms and tells the dancers “swing your hips, get everything loose. You don’t have to keep up, just move. Don’t worry about doing it right, just move.”

Dance offers many health perks, such as fighting osteoporosis, increasing flexibility, reducing joint pain and improving coordination. As she led the group, Brown used dances such as “The Twist,” which was popular in the 1960s, to get her audience involved. Some of her rock ‘n’ roll selections — “Great Balls of Fire” and “Good Golly Miss Molly” — topped the charts when her dancers were young, bringing back memories of nimbler times.

“I still love these golden oldies,” one of the seniors said aloud as she stepped in time to the music.

“I haven’t moved this much in 10 years,” Peggy Timmes said as she worked up a sweat. “This is hard. I feel the burn,” she said, half jokingly, never missing a beat.

Wide variety of music

Brown’s music selections varied widely and incorporated Latin tunes for the merengue moves, salsa, cha cha, and Indian music appropriate for belly dancing toward the end of the session. Everyone danced to the best of their ability. And stopped when they needed to.

One dancer, Rita Zehnter, had a hip replacement and shoulder injury and said her legs are weak. The former Irish Celidhe dancer sat down part way through the class. “I’m going to start off slow. I’ve been sedentary for too long. I’m just getting started. I use to move like that,” she said pointing to her classmates as they waved their arms and stepped to the music. “And I will again,” she added.

People were encouraged to do what they were comfortable doing. Lillian Garhartt, 92, exercised while sitting and danced along as best she could.

Many of the seniors in the class are devout exercisers and active in multiple activities. Some spoke about how coming regularly to the class improved their sense of balance, their outlook on life and their commitment to stay healthy. A fit Carol Reynolds, 86, said she walks a mile a day in addition to taking another exercise class at the YMCA.

Himelrick called the petite Reynolds “her inspiration.”

“If she can do this, I can do this and my doctor is thrilled,” Himelrick added.

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