Boogie Shoes Dance

Ageless and Adult Dance Program

Ageless ballet classes bring dance to seniors

The 75-year-old ballerina

Staff Writer

Posted 3/9/16 in Boulder Camera

After she retired from teaching for 34 years, Mary McNamara became a ballet dancer. She was in her 50s and had no dance training, other than a few years as a child. The Arvada woman isn't a professional dancer, and she doesn't perform. But for 14 years, she has been working on the barre in the Ageless Ballet Class at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.

She recently enrolled in a second ballet class a week, a new class taught by Laurie Grace Wood at the Elite Dance Academy in Broomfield.

Add this to McNamara's weekly tap and jazz classes, and in her mid-70s, she takes four dance classes every week. Forget the stereotypes about ballet dancers: muscular, flexible, 20-year-old athletes in pointe shoes leaping across the stage. That's only one kind of ballerina, says Wood. It is far from the sole definition, she says.

Wood says she confronted that stereotype herself, as she grew older. The Broomfield woman and professional dancer says she was told her career would be over when she hit 30. But now nearing 50, she still dances and performs — proof through her actions that a dance career does not have to have an expiration date. Wood is a member of Boulder's One Big Yes Production, which stemmed from 40 Women Over 40, led by performer Nancy Cranbourne. The group is a dance company made up of, well, you guessed it. Wood says that company inspired her to keep dancing and teaching — "that we can all keep dancing until we drop, even performing," Wood says.

"I'm convinced once you're a dance spirit, you're always a dance spirit," she says. Some of her dance students are former dancers who want to keep moving, she says. But most participants don't have any dance background. Laurie Grace Wood teaches an ageless ballet class at Elite Dance Academy in Broomfield.

"They say, 'I've always wanted to dance,' but they don't know where to go or how to do it," Wood says. "Either there's this longing to dance and fulfill that in their lives, or it's simply great fitness conditioning." One participant said her sister always was considered the graceful one and she was the tomboy, but it was her secret dream to be a ballerina. As a senior, she finally pursued that desire. Most "ageless" dancers Wood teaches are older than 55, both men and women, and they have a wide variety of body shapes and fitness abilities.

Turns out, ballet is great for seniors, Wood says, because they have the barre for extra support, and the training emphasizes balance and posture. Doing the exercises on each side of the body while standing on a single foot demands strength, alignment, whole body awareness and concentration, Wood says. "Ballet is great for all kinds of conditioning ... and controlling the body through slow movements is very powerful," she says. The ageless classes are different than a typical ballet class, Wood says. There's less leaping and spinning, and moves are modified to keep participants safe. Wood has a background in rehabilitation, which she says helps.

Dance, in and of itself, has many proven health benefits, such as improved coordination and focus.AARP notes it can keep muscles toned, burn fat, improve balance and even strengthen bones, because it's weight-bearing. One study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that dance also improved older adults' memory and cognitive function, and another study found that ballroom dancing at least twice a week reduced participants' chances of developing dementia. The list of benefits goes on. Wood says it also builds confidence. When you feel as if you have some control over your body, that empowers every area of your life, Wood says. "They can do more than they thought they could, and do it successfully, and that's what matters the most," she says. The social component is huge for older adults, too, she says. 

"These are classes and teachers who love to keep people moving within the new parameters as their body changes, so it is still possible," Wood says. "If you've got a heart and anything that can move, you can dance. We need to bust through the stereotype that only a 16-year-old can dance, or should dance." 

McNamara, the Arvada resident, says 14 years of ballet have been hugely beneficial for her posture and balance. She says she looks forward to her classes every week. "I love ballet, because I think it's so beautiful," McNamara says. "Plus, as you increase in age, it makes you conscious of your body. It's beautiful, but also a wonderful form of strengthening your body. It's a treat."

Aimee Heckel: 303-473-1359, or

What is Pilates (pil-ah-teez)?

Written by Laurie Wood

Published 2012 in Prime Time for Seniors, Arvada

Joseph H. Pilates, born in Germany in 1880, created the Pilates method of exercise and brought it to New York City in the 1920"s.  Joe's motivation was to help improve his own health since he was a frail child suffering with asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever.  He overcame his physical limitations through exercise, bodybuilding, skiing, diving, and gymnastics, becoming a model for anatomical drawings at the age of 14.  Joe moved to England in 1912, where he worked as a self-defense instructor for detectives at Scotland Yard.  When World War I broke out, Joe was interned in England as an "enemy alien" with other German nationals. While he was there, he refined his ideas and taught his system of exercise to other internees and even rigged springs to hospital beds, enabling bedridden patients to exercise against resistance, an innovation that led to his later equipment designs.  An influenza epidemic struck England in 1918, killing thousands, but not one of Joe's trainees died.  This, he claimed, testified to the effectiveness of his system.

Joe eventually emigrated to the United States in 1923.  During his voyage, he met Clara, whom he later married.  Joe and Clara opened a fitness studio in New York City, sharing an address with the New York City Ballet.  By the early 1960's, Joe and Clara had many clients from the dance community, including George Balanchine and Martha Graham and many of their dancers.  After Joe's death in 1967, at the age of 87, many of his students went on to teach the Pilates Method across the country adding their own innovations and advancements to his original work.  Joe did not leave a will or a successor to his work, but Romana Kryzanowska became the director of his NYC studio in 1970, while Clara continued teaching.  Some of the respected teachers that were once students of Joe and Clara's that are still training the next generations are:  Ron Fletcher, Kathy Grant, Lolita San Miguel, Eve Gentry, Bruce King, Mary Bowen, and Robert Fitzgerald.

By the 1980's, the media began to cover Pilates extensively, making it very popular.  Now Pilates is part of the fitness mainstream, and can be found in recreational centers, physical therapy clinics, and private studios.  Joe once proclaimed, "I'm fifty years ahead of my time."  And he was right. There was a legal battle over the Pilates trademark, but that was lost many years ago.


Pilates involves over 500 exercises that can be done on a Mat or on apparatus specifically designed by Joe, like the Reformer, the Cadillac, the Chair, and the Barrel.  Pilates can be done in a group Mat class, privately on apparatus, or in a group apparatus class.  Many of the exercises are done lying on the back, with some side-lying, prone, seated, and standing exercises.  The apparatus is designed to either assist the body in basic movements or to add resistance to challenge the body as it gains stability and strength.  The matwork uses the body's own weight for exercises and props can be added for variety.

Pilates has now evolved into two categories, the Classical and the Therapeutic.  The Classical Method maintains an advanced set routine of the original work while the Therapeutic Method breaks down and adapts the original work into rehabilitation stages, making it easier for any population, physical condition, or age group to gain the benefits of the Pilates Method.  The Therapeutic Method is best for the aging body and for anyone dealing with a spinal condition, a faulty movement pattern, a gate issue, or who has been released from physical therapy after a surgery, accident, or injury, and who needs a post-rehab program before returning to the gym.

Therapeutic Pilates can help:

*reduce discomfort from chronic low back pain 

*stabilize and improve spinal conditions like scoliosis, stenosis, osteoporosis, degenerative disc, spondylolisthesis 

*prepare and condition a body for surgery and then center and balance a body after surgery 

*stabilize and improve hip, knee, shoulder, and ankle issues 

*improve general balance problems 

*improve the ability to get up and off the floor 

*get a body moving gently after a time of being inactive.

The Pilates Method combines the best of Western and Eastern philosophy, blending the mind and body as a harmonious unit.  The Eastern approach to exercise is a path to calmness, being centered and whole, with an emphasis on stretching and limberness.  The Western approach emphasizes motion, muscle tone and strength.  Pilates is a wonderful combination of both.   

What does Pilates do for a body?

*Strengthens the deep abdominals for spinal and postural support for better daily functioning and recreational activities 

*Focuses the mind to control the body's movement for better overall awareness and concentration 

*Improves flexibility and balance through stretching and strengthening the muscle system uniformally 

*Aligns the spine by conditioning the center of the body to support the body's overall structure

*Breathing deeply to coordinate the deep core engagement with all the movements while purifying the blood and calming the mind 

*Builds confidence in the body's abilities through a wide variety of mindful fluid movements 

*Reduces stress through balancing the body, breathing, and releasing endorphins for a "good feeling" of the mind, body, and spirit 

*Calms the nervous system for a better mental and emotional perspective and an improved night's sleep

"Pilates develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit." 

-Joseph Pilates

We all deserve to stay mobile and independent as long as we can and to enjoy our lives to the fullest.  The mind, body, and spirit approach of Therapeutic Pilates is a great way for Ageless Adults to do just that.