Keeping it moving with older adults in New York City

Going through exercises, Movement Speaks students in Washington Square Park this September, for a special class. (Photo by Tequila Minsky)

By Tequila Minsky

Before the city shut down, on Wednesday mornings, the gym at Dapolito Recreation Center was filled with older adults dance exercising to one of the liveliest playlists in town. The MOVEMENT SPEAKS ® class developed by founder of Dances for a Variable Population Naomi Goldberg Haas attracts a loyal following.

With the City on Pause, class instruction moved to Zoom where these participants from living rooms or bedrooms remotely joined with MOVEMENT SPEAKS ®’ classmates from the other 18 citywide free class sites.

“I’m so impressed with our older adults evolving new ways, dancing and their resilience in engaging on-line,” Hass says of her now Zoom students, men and women that range from ages 60-90.

By computer, tablet, or cell phone and logging on to Dances for a Variable Population’s website [click on “remote programs” www.dvpnyc.org for schedule] or calling from a regular phone, and after a one-time registration, class entry is by following the link for a particular day’s class.

In MOVEMENT SPEAKS ®, every part of the body gets to move— the routine starts with warm-up exercises, adds music for pep, and ends with a creative segment.

“Enjoyment and creativity are our goals,” says Haas. And what makes Haas’ classes special from other on-line classes? Actual interactivity between teachers and class.

Participants are directly asked to “give us a movement —passing” and are highlighted. By computer, classmates mirror that movement. Another dancer is then chosen, and eventually one-by-one, all are asked to lead.

New York City Departments of Cultural Affairs and Aging, New York State Council on the Arts, and foundations help in supporting the two free classes offered every weekday at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

Trained in the MOVEMENT SPEAKS ® methods, a bevy of teachers, dancers holding higher degrees in dance and specialty certifications, lead the classes. Daily attendees experience different teachers on different days and the personalized variations keep the practice far from routine.

Meanwhile, gray skies and an intermittent faint drizzle didn’t prevent the curious or a devoted cadre from taking Naomi Goldberg Haas’ MOVEMENT SPEAKS ® class recently outdoors near Grants Tomb.

At the walkway at W. 122 St. Haas guides the group through a variety of exercises with socially distancing, wearing masks and bundled for the outdoor chill, and happy to be outside after six months of confinement. The West Harlem Development Corporation supports the one hour classes held at 11 a.m. on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and are geared toward older adults. Haas hopes to continue classes until it gets too cold.

Also, Dances for a Variable Population has adapted its annual outdoor dance performance to a daylong virtual festival on Oct. 24, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., on-line.

The festival—Washington Square Dances and Revival 4: Fortitude— includes pre-recorded performances by seasoned artist dancers and who will also lead live Zoom classes. Register for the schedule and Zoom link at—www.revival4.com/contact

The collaborative dance by professional dance artists titled Fortitude “is a testament to the older adults and these past months,” says Haas.
What is the effect of these classes? Many reiterate board member Mary Doty’s statement. Particularly during those early Pandemic days of isolation, “It gave my day structure.”

Over the course of months, some regulars have lost weight, and many have gained strength and agility and flexibility.

Washington Square Park Conservancy and NYU Community Fund are supporting the Oct. 24 program.