By Walter Rutledge
On Wednesday, December 18, Dance of The Village Elders held the culminating fall season presentation in a spacious fifth floor studio at the Joan Weill Center for Dance; also known as The Ailey School, and the official home of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The dance and fitness program for aging adults is part of the Ailey Arts in Education and Community Programs in collaboration with the Harlem Hospital Center. Since September this group of approximately thirty health conscious adults meet in the third floor day room at Harlem Hospital, two days a week for an hour of jazz dance and fitness training.
Breathing, stretching, strength training, cardio vascular and motor skills exercises are set to a music score from the best R&B of the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. The class was designed to offer seniors citizens an exercise and movement regiment to build strength, increase mobility and enhance their overall quality of life. The truth is the class has also enhanced the quality of my life.
In addition to the physical exercise we have developed a movement fellowship. Each week the rigors of the class increase and so has our bond. These ladies have become part of my dance family, we all look forward to getting together for class; and their energy, warmth and wit has made this experience the best part of my week.
This year the class is predominantly women- it seems women are more astute when it comes to understanding the importance of exercise as we age. We had one gentleman who consistently took the class in 2011. He was 96 years young and was happy to be “the only rooster in the hen house”, but during our one-year hiatus he went home to glory.
When the auditorium at Harlem Hospital was suddenly unavailable for our final presentation Cathryn Williams, director of the Ailey Arts and Education and Community Programs, graciously arranged space for the presentation at The Ailey School. The ladies braved the cold and ice; and it was probably the first time dancers arrived to perform at The Ailey School via Access-A-Ride. So on Wednesday December 18 at 5pm our “ladies” became Ailey dancers.
The Village Elders performed a 50-minute presentation, which culminated with a performance of Eartha Kitt’s version of Santa Baby. As an encore the performers danced down a Soul Train line and introduced themselves in a microphone. Despite the cold weather, and change of venue the performance was standing room only. The enthusiastic audience exercised from their seats with the performers and sang along to the R&B soundtrack.
We want to give a special thanks to Program Manager Monique Hedmann, without her hard work and diligence the program would not have returned to Harlem Hospital; and Iymaani Aytes the Program Associate, for the Ailey Arts in Education and Community Programs, who was also an invaluable part of our team. The Ailey Arts and Education and Community Programs staff went the extra mile to make our Village Elders feel like a part of the Ailey family. The evening was a wonderful holiday gift, something they will never forget. I feel truly blessed to have been a part of presentation and the on-going 10-month residency; we all have grown from this experience.
Founder Alvin Ailey said, “Dance is for everybody. I believe that the dance came from the people and that it should always be delivered back to the people.” This program lives up to his credo, giving back to a very special part of our community. Although the program is based at Harlem Hospital the participants travel from Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx; this is a true testament to the healing power of dance.
Due to the success of the program the winter/spring classes will be expanded to 90 minutes. Classes take place Tuesday from 4pm to 5:30pm and Thursday from 10am to 11:30am and will resume on Tuesday, January 7, 2014 in the day room on the 3rd floor at Harlem Hospital. Classes are free to the public.
For more information contact Monique Hedmann at (212) 305- 8674.