By Walter Rutledge
The Dance Of The Village Elders, dance and fitness class for seniors, returns to Harlem after an eighteen-month hiatus. The classes will be held on Thursdays at 2pm. beginning February 2, 2017 at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, 204 West 134th Street. The classes run thru the end of June, culminating with a performance/fund raiser given by the senior participants.
The program conceived by former Program Coordinator Monique Hedmann began offering classes for seniors in 2010 at Harlem Hospital. Ailey teaching artists Wendy Amos, Ethel Calhoun and Walter Rutledge each taught 12-week sessions in 2010 and 2011. The program was suspended in 2012 due to funding restrictions, but returned in 2013 with Rutledge as the primary teacher.
Under Rutledge’s tenure the program expanded to include a performing element. Over the next year the Dance Of The Village Elders began to build a loyal following within the Harlem community. This culminated in 2015 with; overflow crowds at their bi-annual performances, guest performances with Dancers For A Variable Population and Dance Harlem, and guest artists (and dance legends) Dudley Williams, Loretta Abbott and Dyane Harvey, who enhanced the performances with solid yet subtle artistry. The Dance of the Village Elders was quickly becoming one of Harlem’s new breakout boutique dance companies. Then the music stopped.
Harlem Hospital Auxiliary had generously funded part of the 2014/15 season. The remaining third of the funds came from money raised by the seniors through their spring performance. As we negotiated for funds of the fall/spring 2015/16 season the Auxiliary chose to go in a different direction. The Ailey Arts In Education Community Programs graciuosly offered to pursue funding sources, but nothing materialized. The program officially ended.
The classes may have stopped, but the camaraderie between the “Ladies” seemed to only get stronger. Many are tech savvy and we have became friends on Facebook, or on line, others reach out by telephone, while some attend dance events discussed in O&A NYC Magazine. Despite the class ending our bond is strong and we have stayed a family.
This made me more determined to find a way to keep my Ladies dancing. I realized that money (or in this case the lack of money) was the least important reason not to do something. So we adopted the belief let’s dance in the third verse of We Shall Overcome – “God is on my side”. We decide to treat the Dance Of The Village Elders as a movement/fitness cooperative. Simply put we would raise the money and take control of the fate of the program.
St. Philip’s Episcopal Church has always been forward thinking and the close proximity to our former location (St. Philip’s is located at 204 West 134th Street between Adam Clayton Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard) made the church ideal for the new class. The church recognized the importance of the program and the positive effect it will have on their congregation and the Harlem community- class begins February 2 at 2pm. Thank you St. Philip’s!!!!!
The 90-minute class will be free to the public. The only prerequisite is that you are striving to be a better you. We open with a warm up that uses breath and relaxation, then address participant concerns with motor skills, balance and mobility, strength and conditioning exercises, and we finish with movement and choreography. The music is from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s so you can sing along or just reminisce where you were when the Chairman of the Board asked us to, “Give Me Just A Little More Time”.
Dance Of The Village Elders 2017 Fundraiser
If you are interested in joining the Dance Of The Village Elders we meet on Thursdays, 2pm at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, 204 West 134th Street. There are no start dates or attendance policy, and the only commitments you need to make is when you do attend have a good time. We attend to make Harlem dance. For more information contact Walter Rutledge by telephone at 917-744-2601 or email him at email@example.com.