Jan 09

Belly dancers show no skin

The Independent – January 9, 2009

Rensselaer, NY – Stop by the Rensselaer Area Senior Center any day of the week to find a bunch of senior citizens doing anything but acting their age. You’re more likely to find a flurry of activity from Tai Chi and yoga, to line dancing or belly dancing. There’s bowling and aqua aerobics, music and laughter everyday.

On Tuesdays you’ll find a group of ladies, often dressed in long skirts with headscarves and jingly belts involved in a belly dancing class. Often considered a dance of seduction, belly dancing is more like a folk dance, an ancient art form that for centuries has been a celebratory dance people would do to commemorate special occasions such as weddings, the birth of a child or community festivals in the Middle East.

Seniors Olive Felio, (l-r) instructor Lynn Buell, Irja Riano and Phyllis Kearbey practice belly dancing every Tuesday at the Rensselaer Area Senior Center, a lively dance class with a Middle Eastern twist. Photo by Catherine Sager.

It is a dance that men, women, and children do for fun, not necessarily as a performance for the entertainment of an audience. Just like at a wedding reception where guests might do waltzes, the electric slide, Macarena, or even the chicken dance. But for the participants of the Rensselaer Senior Center, it’s just one of many activities offered to active seniors.

“It’s a great way for seniors to get a workout,” said Lynn Buell, dance instructor. “It combines low-impact steps with gentle flowing movements, but is a surprisingly effective form of exercise.”  Ms. Buell says the measured movements involve all major muscle groups and help with circulation, posture and balance. The music is soothing and the movements are so graceful and repetitive that it’s a stress reliever, she said. And it’s easy to learn. Anyone can do it. All that’s needed to know are a few simple steps. With slow and gentle movements, it’s the perfect exercise and a unique form of dance that doesn’t require a partner.

Gloria Fonda, the director of the center, wants it known that all Rensselaer County seniors 60 years or older are invited to visit the center. The center is an active, vibrant community where seniors can gather to take a class, catch up with friends or have a hot lunch every day at noon, for a suggested donation of $2.50. She said there is no fee for any activities on the calendar at the center at the corner of East and Herrick streets.
“It’s through the [Department of Aging] agency’s genuine concern for the health and welfare of our elders that the center serves so many so well,” said Ms. Fonda.

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