On Saturday mornings residents at Woodland Grove on Rectory Lane in Loughton practice arm and foot patterns and trade cyphers in a class that sees them nodding their heads to emerging hip hop artists from Essex as well as the likes of 2Pac and Nas. Woodland Grove offers residential, nursing, memory and respite care for up to 72 people.
The seated dance class, which sits alongside more traditional activities in home’s daily programme, is taught by 24-year-old Charlie Blair from Walthamstow, a hip hop instructor and part-time agency care worker.
“To me, hip hop is an obvious choice to teach to older people,” she said. “It’s a dance style that’s very accessible as it encourages individuality and embraces difference. People can train as professional hip hop dancers much later in life compared to classical styles such as ballet.
“Entertainment for older people is often about reminiscence and the past, and while that has great benefits, there’s nothing to stop them trying something new. It also gives them a lot to talk about with their grand-children!”
A regular at the classes is 91 year old Chris Nickerson.
“I love dance, that’s how I met my husband,” she said. “I used to go dancing all the time with my sister. This isn’t exactly what I’m used to, but it’s such good fun learning, and doing something different to what I’m used to. And some of the music I really like!”
A key part of the class is trading cyphers – moves each dancer shows off to the rest of the group.
“It’s great to see how their confidence has grown over the weeks they’ve been attending these classes,” said home manager, Hazel McGwyne. “We could see how shy they were to start with, they felt quite exposed having to perform in front of each other, but now they are teaching Charlie some moves from their own dance backgrounds!
“We always aim to give people a choice of stimulating activities here and this class has so many benefits – it keeps them moving physically and challenged mentally because it’s something they’ve never done before and the music is new to them. They are working together and feeling appreciated by each other which is very powerful against any feelings of isolation or depression. And they’re recalling memories of dancing in their youth, all of which have huge benefits for their wellbeing.”
Charlie, who is also a qualified carer as well as a dance instructor with her own business, The Blair Academy, one day hopes to create an older people’s hip hop dance group.
“New Zealand has ‘The Hip Hop-eration’ whose average age is 80 and many members have dementia. They performed at the World Hip Hop Championships so if they can do it, why can’t we?!”