The elderly in a German care home rediscover the joy of dancing with the help of their walking frames
Friederike Kolb is 100 years old and never thought she’d be able to dance again.
“When I was a young girl I used to love dancing and I still really love it,” she says.
Every Wednesday morning social worker Gerburg Cartus gives quite a special dance lesson at the Frankenhoehe senior citizens home in Mainz, western Germany.
The youngest participant is 80 and all have the same dance partner – their rollators.
The German Dance Teachers Association (ADTV) is taking elderly dancers seriously and recently launched its Elderly and Agile: the Rollator Dance Handbook in the city of Mainz.
In the book, employees at care homes are advised on how to give dance lessons.
It’s an idea that Cornelia Willius-Senzer, president of the ADTV and director of a dance school in Mainz, has copied from the Netherlands.
“It was so beautiful, the dancers had tears in their eyes,” she says.
The ADTV has been giving rollator dance classes in senior citizens homes and dance schools for two years, with health insurance firm AOK providing 20,000 euros (Bt800,000) in funding.
“It’s been very well received,” says Willius-Senzer. “Lots of people were a bit sceptical at first but as soon as the music started playing their eyes lit up.”
The residents of the Frankenhoehe home have a lot of fun in their class; three steps into the centre, rock step, and back again.
Other dances include clapping and arm movements.
Willius-Senzer was already campaigning for the rollator dance classes in care homes back in 2011 and inspired Cartus, who believes they have lots of benefits for older people.
“It does them so much good to show themselves off,” she says. “It’s great for their confidence and their enjoyment of life.”
Her group does performances at Carnival time, at summer, Christmas and other celebrations. The dancers dress up and decorate their rollators, even using fairy lights at Christmas.
“It takes me out of myself and gives me a bit of a boost,” says 80-year-old Marie-Luise Dreyer, who swears by her rollator.
“I use it to move my washing basket and it also doubles up as a tea trolley, a shopping aid and a dance partner!” she says.
Cartus begins her classes with slow dances, and then moves on to the faster ones.
“Dancing’s also very good training for the memory,” says Cartus. And it encourages socialising. After every dance there’s a short pause for conversation.
“The residents are really happy because they connect the songs with happy memories,” says Cartus.
Else Bouche, 89, says her youth was overshadowed by World War II, and she was often afraid.
“Everything was destroyed – but we still danced and had fun,” she says.
That’s why music and dancing still have a special meaning to her.
The federal Health Ministry spent 35,000 euros funding the new ADTV rollator dance handbook, which sets out beginner exercises on rhythm and keeping time and gives practical tips on lessons.
There are instructions on dance standards such as the foxtrot and the waltz with a rollator, as well Latin American classics such as the rumba and the samba, and there are three different levels of difficulty.
The dance steps are set out, often with arm and hip movements and one chapter even gives instructions on how to dance while sitting.