18 May 2021

Susan Jordan on dancing for creative ageing

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:43 pm on 18 May 2021

Learning dance is excellent for older people because active participation in any art form is great for our brains, says dance practitioner Susan Jordan.

Seniors dancing at eniorDANCE class in Auckland

Seniors dancing at a SeniorDANCE class in Auckland Photo: SeniorDANCE

Dance practitioner Susan Jordan.

Dance practitioner Susan Jordan. Photo: Amanda Billing.

Dance is physical but also intellectual, Susan tells Jesse Mulligan, and although it's not easy for older people to remember sequences of movement it is very beneficial.

"Scientists used to think as we got older our brains just died. It's been proven that that's not true. if we're doing new things our brain can always find new pathways… to remember dance is actually quite hard."

Susan has been dancing since the age of seven, danced professionally until she was 35, and later worked at the NZ School of Dance and the Dance Studies department at Unitech.

It wasn't until she was in her 60s that a friend challenged her to deliver dance classes to older people - something she hadn't previously given any thought to. After getting Creative NZ funding to check out what was happening in the UK and the US, Susan started up SeniorDANCE classes in Auckland.

Her students, who are all over 60 and mostly in their 70s, all demonstrate what Susan calls "creative ageing" - a term coined by the late American geriatrician Gene Cohen.

"Creative ageing" means active participation in any art form, Susan says. If it's a new art form that's especially good for boosting cognition, so learning the ukulele is on Susan's own list.

When it comes to performance, shyness is part of the benefit, she says.

"Being nervous and having stage fright is actually good. You overcome it, it's a challenge."

Susan Jordan teaches SeniorsDANCE classes around Auckland. Her students performed in the recent ASPiRE A Senior Dance Show.