A 95-year-old woman is among the twinkle-toed care home residents showing the younger generation how to tango their way to health thanks to a revolutionary exercise project.
The Strictly Come Dancing enthusiasts are partnering with eight and nine-year-olds at Chirk Court Care Home, in Chirk, in a project designed to promote intergenerational friendships and improve wellbeing.
The weekly dance sessions, which draw on a host of dance styles and rhythmic movements, are attended by up to 20 elderly residents at any one time.
Once a month, the home invites around 10 schoolchildren from nearby Ysgol y Waun to join in and share their love of music and movement.
The exercise session is so popular, even those unable to take part cheer and spectate from the side lines, including 107-year-old Rita “Nan” Evans who has become a particular hit with the children.
Mandi Southern, activities coordinator said: “Wherever possible we encourage people to carry on their hobbies. We’ve created a vegetable patch, we’ve bought a football net for one gentleman who still loves to kick a ball and now we have these exercise classes and why not? Life is for living.
“There’s a lot of giggling of course and fun. We’ve even danced to the Full Monty – that saw everybody running in from outside to see what was going on.
“Even the nurses, family members and other visitors will join in when they see the classes in full swing – it uplifts everybody, not just the children and residents.
“We do a sit-down version of the Tango, moving our feet and arms. We enjoy a bit of jazz. We’ve not quite got round to Hip Hop yet but you never know – I’m sure we’d give it a go”
Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of industry champions Care Forum Wales, congratulated Chirk Court for thinking outside the box to promote intergenerational friendships.
“This is a fantastic project benefitting everybody involved,” he said.
“Bringing young and older people together over a shared love of dance and music is a great way of initiating friendships and motivating residents to try new activities.
“These dance classes are having a brilliant impact on the wellbeing of the residents and helping to widen the children’s understanding of their world.”
Chirk Court, managed by ClwydAlyn Housing Ltd, a member of Care Forum Wales, successfully applied for a £1,800 Community Plus Award from ClwydAlyn last year as part the company’s 40th anniversary celebrations.
The funding, which was granted to expand the home’s intergenerational work, ensures Chirk Court can continue providing the dance sessions until the end of the year at least – much to the delight of the residents.
Chirk Court manager Lisa Johnson said: “It’s great to see how initiative has succeeded as we’d hoped, in encouraging relationships and community integration which will last throughout the lives of the younger and older residents of Chirk, and support dementia friendly communities which are truly integrated
Nan Roberts, 95, originally from Glyn Ceiriog, said: “I look forward to the dance and exercise class each week. I’ve made lots of friends and enjoy spending time with the school children on their visit.”
Annie Harper, 89, who was born and raised in Yorkshire, added: “The dance class always makes me feel good.
“It cheers me up and I have lots of fun with my new friends.”
The sessions are run by Denbigh-based dance practitioner Anita Lloyd and often include the use of rhythmic ribbons and scarves for additional sensory benefit.
Participants have not only been introduced to traditional Welsh folk dancing but also classics such as The Charleston and the Hand Jive.
“Every Monday when I arrive the residents are there waiting for me,” explained Anita.
“As soon as we start they know exactly what to do and they remember what is coming next which is amazing. They remember the emotion of that specific time as the music is a big trigger. They are always happy and smiling and we always have a giggle.
“It has been lovely to watch the development. We use physio movements and engage both sides of the brain at all times. They’ve all really progressed and I see it in the way they stand up and their posture.
“You can really see a difference when the children are involved. The residents just light up.”
As part of the project, Anita goes into the primary school each week to raise awareness of dementia among the schoolchildren. They work in partners and play games where their buddy is in control of their movements to increase their understanding of the experiences of someone living with memory loss.
“It’s wonderful to see them working together and having fun. They’ve really become part of the family. We’re so proud to be able to continue it,” said Mandi.
“It can be very funny but that’s what the residents love about it. One lady was a schoolteacher before she retired and used to take PE lessons. She is still full of life and absolutely loves it.
“But it’s not just for the ladies. We also have a couple of gents regularly coming along.
“We don’t see their age at all. Yes, they cannot do as much as they could but in many cases they have a lot more energy than me.
“We’re always keen to do something a bit different. People need to live a full life and be inspired to learn new things. Age should never be a barrier and neither should dementia.”
John Roberts, headteacher of Ysgol Y Waun, said: “Pupils in years 3 and 4 have really enjoyed learning dance routines and sharing a dance class with the residents at Chirk Court.
“Everyone gets involved to the best of their ability. It is important that children learn to value their community and everyone who lives within it.
“Various school groups visit Chirk Court across the school year and this includes visits from the school choir. After the class the residents like to chat to the children – sharing stories over a cup of tea!
“These dance classes have been very beneficial and we hope that with continued support and funding we will be able to continue working on similar projects in years to come.”