“The moment of seniors taking to dance has come,” says Geetha Mathen. In 2006 she founded Natya Vyayaama in Kochi to encourage older women to dance and exercise.
“It was ahead of its time then,” she says. In 1998 she had informally started teaching dance to seniors but found few takers. Post the pandemic Geetha is relaunching the classes in May, exclusively for women above 50 and has already received invitations from two apartment complexes to hold sessions. She plans to hold classes at apartments across the city, if there is a group of 10 or more senior dancers. She teaches at her space, Veranda, in Kottayam as well.
Chandrika Menon, 72, is one of the senior dancers at KAPZ Dance Sessions, a dance platform started by choreographer Kalpana Susheelan, in Thevara , Kochi. Chandrika joined last year when the school was founded. “I even dance to nattu nattu,” she says with a laugh, adding “Dance improves your memory, coordination, energy, grace and power, step-by-step.”
At 78, Geeta Karot, is the senior-most in the group. She loves western dance and learnt how to dance jazz and salsa, as well as belly dance, in different cities in Europe, where she resided because of her husband’s job. She joined the classes three months ago. “I happened to hear a favourite song of mine while walking past the dancers and wanted to join. They welcomed me,” says Geeta, adding that she loves moving to music.
Kalpana’s senior students, a group called, Lady Bugs, are all above the age of 60. Dance has helped alleviate some of their health problems, she says. She gives an example of a woman facing “memory issues”, which improved drastically with dance. “You have to remember the dance steps, and that regenerated her memory power,” she says.
Her classes for seniors begin with Latin moves , followed by Salsa shines, in which partners move apart from each other to show off a variety of nimble foot movements.
One of Kochi’s most senior Indian classical dancers, Shyamala Surendran broke the glass ceiling in 1982 when she began learning dance as a 34-year-old. “That itself is considered late,” she says adding that it was her passion that she pursued, and later set up Dharani school of Performing Arts in the 90s.
At the start of 2023, three 50-year-olds have enrolled in her school, to learn classical dance. According to her dance “is like a whirlpool” and draws one into its world of self discovery and realization. “Its final outcome is pure happiness,” she says.
On the challenges of teaching dance to seniors as compared to children, Shyamala says it is only pure dance —movements — that the kids can master, but to perform satwika abhinaya (communication of inner emotions) one has to be mature to understand it.”
Shyamala says that in many instances she finds children sending their mothers to dance as they find a change for the better in their mothers’ state of mind. Vyshnavie Sainath who set up Vyshnavie Dance Centre in Secundrabad, in 2012 agrees. “Grandmothers are joining the class, a mother-daughter duo are enjoying the art and finding a new-found closeness in their relationship,” she says.
Vyshnavie notices a definite spike in the number of women in the age group 40 to 60 take to dance. “It is good to see that women are finally dropping their inhibitions,” she says, adding that online classes, “gave them the confidence to dance.”
Sheeba Joseph, 57, who joined Dharani School of Dance this year after retiring as a teacher from St Augustine Higher Secondary School in Aroor, says that her family is supportive of her decision, though her neighbours may disapprove. She finds dancing a good way to manage weight. “To me my 75-year-old teacher Shyamala is an inspiration,” she adds.
Chennai-based doyen of classical dance VP Dhanajayan and his wife, Shanta, who continue to perform in their 80s say that seniors dance for two reasons – one to fulfill a childhood passion and to experience the physical, mental and spiritual benefits. Dhanajayan adds that there it is another advantage: “these seniors largely comprise the audience at dance performances and will now know the nuances of dance. That’s what a performer wishes for.”