By Adewale Adekanbi
The Dance Of The Village Elders, a dance and fitness project for seniors, concluded a five-month residency with a finale performance on Thursday June 27, 2019. The project, part of the SuCasa arts for seniors program, sponsored by the Bronx Council On The Arts in conjunction with the NYC Cultural Affairs and the NYC Department of the Aging. Choreographer/teacher Walter Rutledge conducted the project, which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at the R.A.I.N. Nereid Senior Center, 720 Nereid Avenue in the Northeast Bronx.
This was the second consecutive SuCasa residency for Rutledge at the Nereid Avenue center. “I really was elated to be working with at the Nereid Senior Center again. I had built a rapport with the seniors and they had become part of my extended dance family. So, I was overjoyed to return to Nereid”, explained Rutledge.
Each 60- minute session included an opening stretch, warm up, movement/dance and warm down. The 10 minutes stretch combined relaxing simple movements to stretch to spine, neck, shoulders and upper torso. The warm-up contained exercises designed to prepare the body for movement, and to address additional physical concerns of the seniors. This section was very flexible, and exercises were added and deleted based on the weather/season and personal issues of the participants. An emphasis was placed on hands/fingers, rotator cuff, abdominals and obliques, hip flexors, and ankles.
Movement/choreography was interspersed throughout the warm-up to give the seniors rest breaks between dances. In addition to the benefits of movement for increasing muscle density and providing joint friendly cardio, fun remained paramount throughout the entire session. The movement component introduced movement that ranged from two-step, modified salsa and merengue, Caribbean and West African inspired movement, and social dances including the twist, cool jerk, and the Electric Slide.
Dance Of The Village Elders at R.A.I.N. Nereid Senior Center- Photo Essay
The sessions culminated with a brief warm- down. Soon pre and post “fellowship” time (about 10 minutes each) became part of a continuing evaluation process. This gave us more opportunity to access what worked for the seniors and what needed to change.
Due to the diverse ethnic make-up of the participates the biggest unifying factor became the music. The Northeast Bronx is a combination of old neighborhoods with great ethnic diversity. The center included Latin, Afro- Caribbean, West African, East Indian, African- American, Italian, Asian- American and Jews of Eastern European decent. And through the music we were able to create a “cultural gumbo”.
The “audio” ranged from fifties Do-Wop, 60’s Rock and Roll, 70’s and 80’s R&B; with artists including Pavarotti, Celia Cruz, Bob Marley, Kirk Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Dion and The Belmonts and Feli Kuti. The participants in many instances knew the words to the songs and were encouraged to sing along.
Dance Of The Village Elders At R.A.I.N. Nereid Senior Center (Video)
The final event/public program entitled The Many Flavors Of Dance took place on Thursday, June 27, at 11am. The room was completely transformed by the staff into a festive “confectionary” representing The Many Flavors of Dance; the name was a metaphor honoring the center’s diversity. Over fifty seniors participated in the one-hour presentation; which included group participation from invited guests. The post-fellowship included lunch open to the seniors and their guests.
Usually the final performance is bittersweet, because it signals the end of the project. Fortunately, the Nereid Senior Center has decided to continue the classes as part of their in-house arts programming. “I was delighted when the classes were offered, this place has become very special to me. And I really didn’t want it to end”, said Rutledge. Rutledge will teach two weekly classes on Tuesday and Thursday from 11am to 12noon. For more information about Rutledge’s dance/fitness class and all of the activities offered at R.A.I.N. Nereid Senior Center call (718) 994-0132.
Photographs and video by Adewale Adekanbi Jr.