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My Hands: Inspiration and Creative Aging

My Hands: Inspiration and Creative Aging

Sagewood_1My Hands …

How would you finish that statement?

This simple prompt is a wonderful beginning to an exercise that I learned at a Creative Aging workshop sponsored by engAGE Utah that helped artists learn how to build and implement creative artistic classes for seniors.

Creative Aging is a blossoming field that has grown thanks to the serious and concerted efforts of several leaders like Dr. Gene Cohen, Susan Perlstein, and Stuart Kandell. Over the past several decades, these leaders, and others, have worked to change the culture that surrounds aging adults and have helped to build an understanding that everyone wants to continue learning throughout their lifetime.

It’s odd to think that there was a time when people didn’t realize that learning through life – not just during your younger years – is essential to being a happy and healthy person. Artists have always known that the arts and creative thinking are vital to finding enjoyment and passion at any stage of life, but we are only now beginning to create programs that address the needs of life-long learners, especially for those aged 65+.

When it Sagewood_2comes to creative aging and art classes for seniors, it’s important to remember that each adult chooses to be there with you. As such, they want to feel that they are making social connections with others as well as learning and experiencing something new. Creative arts classes give the teacher and students the opportunity to share stories about their lives and experiences, make new connections with others, and learn something new about art and the artistic process.

Repertory Dance Theatre started a pilot program with Sagewood at Daybreak, a senior living center in South Jordan, in May. Since then, a few of our dancers and staff have been heading out to Daybreak once a week to work with residents from different units at the center, including memory care.

Whether we stay seated in a chair or get up and walk around and move through space, these classes offer the residents of Sagewood an opportunity to move, to learn some new, and to build connections with those who live around them. It also offers the teacher an endless amount of inspiration and joy.

You can always sense the hesitation when the class starts. People who don’t move very often are wary of being asked to do something they won’t be able to do.  But after a few assurances and words of encouragement even the residents who don’t move very often start to use their arms and hands in new ways. Smiles abound as you talk and play different styles of music. Some just sit and watch, tapping their toes to the beat. After almost every class, it’s hard not to leave feeling inspired.

I had the joy of working with a group of about 10 seniors this past week. One of the exercises we did was “My Hands… .” It’s a simple prompt but it takes on such deep and touching meaning when you are working with people who have lived so much.

We started by looking at our hands. Thinking about all that they have done, accomplished, created. I asked those who were comfortable to finish that sentence.

“My hands played the piano …”

“My hands held my babies …”

“My hands clapped for the children …”

“My hands wiped away the tears …”

Sagewood_3Such touching and simple statements were then paired with movements. We did everything sitting down so no one would have to worry about balance or getting too tired. Everyone participated in their own way, mouthing the words or stating them out loud, as we built our poem and gesture dance. The gestures we came up with were simple but meaningful.

As we built the movement poem, the energy in the room changed. We learned something special about each person. We connected on an artistic level that left everyone feeling uplifted and inspired.

If you’d like to know more about Creative Aging, take a look at the National Center for Creative Aging website at: http://www.creativeaging.org/ or visit EngAGE Utah’s website at: http://engageutah.org/

Nick Cendese is an Artistic Associate with Repertory Dance Theatre and currently works in the office, the studio, in the schools, and every place in between teaching, coaching, choreographing and spreading his love of modern dance.