By Greg Hernandez
Lauren Peterson had already spent an hour taking part in a juggling class before heading downstairs to the Center’s Advocate & Gochis Galleries at The Village at Ed Gould Plaza to teach more than a dozen of her fellow seniors how to tap dance.
“I turned 60 two days ago,” Peterson, pictured left, tells the beginners tap class as they do warm-up stretches to Cher’s power ballad You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me.
She then teaches the group some basic tap steps. By the end of the hour, most have caught on and are able to complete a routine set to Frank Sinatra’s The Best is Yet to Come.
The tap class is among more than 100 different health and fitness classes, activities, and events offered each month at the Center for LGBT seniors. In addition to beginning tap dancing lessons and juggling, recent classes include chair yoga, country line dancing, ballroom dancing, hiking, and Qi Gong, which is a holistic system of coordinated body posture and movement, breathing, and meditation.
“There are actually too many activities to do,” Peterson jokes as she packs up her music after class. “It’s like, ‘When do we fit tap class in? We have to do it after chair yoga and we don’t want to interfere with juggling.’”
She adds: “it’s important for seniors to stay active for our quality of life. We want to be able to be mobile. We want to be able to do things that are fun. We’re getting up, we’re active, we’re improving our own health and forming community.”
Kenny Navran, one of the students in Peterson’s class, had been wanting to learn tap dancing for 25 years. He’s thrilled to finally be doing it.
“It’s a pretty good workout—I never sweat anymore at my age,” he says. “This class is turning into one of my major exercise routines of the week. It’s not just fun, it’s good for you physically and mentally. It requires a lot of thought to do the steps correctly and in time.”
Meanwhile, Larry Rubenstein, who teaches a computer class at the Center, couldn’t resist taking up juggling.
“I think our bodies are ready to close down after 50,” he says. “You have to force yourself to stay active to keep yourself going.”
Phyllis Rose-Child has also been taking the juggling class which she says has helped her maintain her policy of leaving the house at least once a day
“It is a quality of life issue,” she says. “I love coming here because there are so many different things to do and to learn and it challenges me every time. It doesn’t matter if I’m perfect at it or not. There are so many activities. I’m totally amazed that all of this is offered for free.”
Kiera Pollock, the Center’s director of Senior Services, has noticed an increase in participation in health and wellness activities in general during the past year.
“We know the more active you are, and the more engaged you are in the community around you, the more it helps you live longer and be more vibrant,” she says. “Getting out, moving, connecting with other people, learning, and laughing is what we need to do as we get older.”
Pollock has seen first-hand how being less sedentary has resulted in some of the Center’s seniors having less feelings of depression and anxiety.
“One senior came up to me who had never done line dancing before and told me that he’d found his groove for the first time in his life,” she says.
The line dancing class is instructed by senior volunteer Matthew Dubois, who enthusiastically teaches the cowboy cha-cha, country western waltz, and other dances.
“Learning line dance requires a part of your brain you don’t normally use,” Dubois explains. “It forces you to stretch your brain which is really good for seniors, like learning a new language but easier. It’s fun and you can do it with a big old cowboy flair. When I dance I feel like the music transports me and I go to another place, one that is gentler and kinder. I see the same thing with my students. They smile so much during class.”