By Gay Regan
It was mid March and I woke up to heavy, wet snow. I growled out the window, “Hey, it’s almost spring. Enough!” Then I panicked as I thought, “Is the Charlotte Senior Center going to be open? Is Liesje Smith, the teacher of my movement/dance class, going to make it in the snow?” My back was hurting that morning and I had a crick in my neck. I was sulky and desperate for class. At 9 a.m. I called the Senior Center. No answer. At 9:20 I called again. Yes, the Center was open and class would happen. My day brightened.
We are a class of three this day, other times six. Liesje has her laptop set up with a wonderful variety of music that includes singers like Aretha Franklin or Joni Mitchell, or contemporary classical music, or jazz. She carefully selects music each week from Spotify where she discovers musicians from all over the world. The Great Room of the Senior Center is spacious and comfortable. The class starts in different ways, depending on her “senior” students. She listens to us to assess our needs, problems and abilities and then devises therapeutic exercises to free our bodies.
This snowy day Liesje begins by isolating our movements. We start with our arms and shoulders and finding a proper alignment for our spine. Our arms swing in small or giant circles, and then we move down to the waist and pelvis. We jiggle and bend, following the movements of our young, mid-40s teacher and watching her warm, encouraging smile. She creates word images for the exercises we are doing. Sometimes the words fire our imaginations, though occasionally the words fall flat and we just laugh together. She instructs, “You want to release tension, to feel a plumpness or sponginess in your joints, to breathe air into them. Now root your feet into the floor, into Mother Earth, spread your toes, find your balance.”
Then she has us move through the room, making us aware of space. The music changes mood and tempo, and we are dancing forward, backward, in circles, enjoying the aerobic exercise. Other times we are moving while sitting on a chair or we stand quietly in a circle. “Hold out your left thumb and tap with the finger tips of your other hand from your thumb to your shoulder, along your breastbone, and down your chest, stomach, legs, feet, and back up. Feel that your body parts interconnect.”
I don’t like exercise machines, lifting weights or strict routines in which each class is the same. I am half way through this snowy day class and suddenly I am feeling wonderful. The crick in the neck seems to have disappeared. I can still feel a bit of ouch in my back—but at least it feels limber. I am dancing using my own free-form movement. I have shed an old skin and become younger, more vital.
Leisje stops the class to give us time to catch our breath and to work in other ways with our bodies. She has had a terrific background in ballet, contemporary dance and Rolfing. She has studied anatomy and somatic movement. She pays attention to each individual and coaches us on how to avoid movement that might damage a problem area of our body. She asks how my neck is doing. We do some stretching and massaging of the head and the neck and then gently sweep our hands from the top of our head down our bodies to our toes. “Out, damn spot, away with those cricks and aches,” I say to myself.
We have a last song and move to the music once again. We weave around the room being aware of each other, interacting and looking at each other. We are a community that this hour of dance has brought together. We sometimes end class in a circle, whispering some nice thought to the person next to us. Other times we just stretch upward and send thanks for the space, each other, and for the joy of feeling more alive. The class has room for additional people. Come and join us.