Over 50 shades of grey

For­get slip­pers and knit­ting. Th­ese se­nior Territorians are rock­ing their world in a far more ex­cit­ing way…

Sunday Territorian - - SUNDAY LIVING - By ME­GAN PALIN To find out more visit tracks­dance.com.au

A DAR­WIN dance troupe of se­nior cit­i­zens has been giv­ing its mem­bers “a rea­son to get up and do their hair” for a quar­ter of a cen­tury.

The Grey Pan­thers was founded by chore­og­ra­phers Beth Shel­ton and Sarah Calver to cater to the artis­tic, so­cial and health needs of se­niors.

The Tracks Dance Com­pany group boasts 35 mem­bers aged 56-83 and has been meet­ing for re­hearsals ev­ery Fri­day morn­ing since 1988.

Co-artis­tic di­rec­tor and dance co-or­di­na­tor David McMicken said he was amazed by the women when he started work­ing with them in 1992.

“(They gave) singing, tap­ping, ball­room danc­ing, jit­ter­bug and jive, writ­ing, roller skat­ing, rap danc­ing and a spin on the floor a good go,” he said.

“(They showed a) state of age­ing with vigour, of hav­ing some­thing to say and be­ing un­afraid to do new things.

“They main­tain and in­crease their dance and per­for­mance skills to work on a healthy life­style, to learn new chore­og­ra­phy and dances, and to main­tain a dance reper­toire.”

Some ex­tra testos­terone has re­cently been added to the mix too.

“We have one male who comes in each week from Batchelor, and one who comes each year from Can­berra, where he and his wife are in a sim­i­lar group,” Mr McMicken said.

A healthy in­ter­est

Frank Si­na­tra and Michael Bu­ble are favourites with the group, but Mr McMicken said they dance to a wide va­ri­ety of styles. He de­scribed the Grey Pan­thers as “joy­ful”.

“(They’re) a singing, danc­ing troupe of wise el­ders that sure know how to party,” he said.

“Peo­ple want to be like them, of­ten be­moan­ing the fact that, at 55, they are too young to join.”

But the dancers are not im­mune to strug­gles. Mr McMicken said all the en­ter­tain­ers fight their own bat­tles.

“Other than hav­ing to face up to fears of per­form­ing in front of large groups, and hav­ing to re­mem­ber moves to be able to re­peat them over a two-week sea­son, many of the chal­lenges are health-re­lated,” he said.

“As the body stops do­ing what it used to do when younger, and the mem­ory starts to take longer, many peo­ple can fall into a sense of iso­la­tion and de­pres­sion and pain.

“We have hip re­place­ments, pace­mak­ers, op­er­a­tions on ev­ery con­ceiv­able joint, de­pres­sions, asthma, Parkin­son’s disease, and other things that tend to take a back seat once they are danc­ing.

“The weekly class and per­for­mances give peo­ple a rea­son to get up and do their hair, ex­er­cise, and have fun.”

On cen­tre stage

But the Grey Pan­thers do not want to be known for their in­abil­i­ties and dif­fi­cul­ties – “rather for their achieve­ments and great joy”.

The group reg­u­larly per­forms at cul­tural, so­cial and char­ity events in­clud­ing Dar­win Fes­ti­val, Big­gest Morn­ing Tea fundrais­ers, Por­trait of a Se­nior Ter­ri­to­rian, Ro­tary, Arthri­tis Foun­da­tion, Dar­win Fes­ti­val Pool Party, Batchelor Linga Longa Fes­ti­val, Fire­men’s Pen­sioner Christ­mas Party, se­niors’ vil­lages and homes, Re­claim the Night and the Palmer­ston Se­niors’ Month Eisteddfod.

“We are just fin­ish­ing a big Cho­rus Line ex­trav­a­ganza, and ear­lier this year we cel­e­brated the Sil­ver Ju­bilee. They per­formed new works from lo­cal chore­og­ra­phers,” Mr McMicken said. Peo­ple want to be like them, of­ten be­moan­ing the fact that, at 55, they are too young

Long­est-serv­ing Grey Pan­thers dancer Shirley Somers, 79, has been with the club for 14 years af­ter look­ing for an ac­tiv­ity to help fill her time.

“When I was young I went to the movies and there were lots of mu­si­cals in those days; lots of dances with Gin­ger Rogers and Rita Hay­worth,” she said.

“I would have liked to have done it then, but I never had the op­por­tu­nity.”

When Mrs Somers turned 65 she at­tended a Grey Pan­thers re­hearsal and was soon danc­ing to show tunes like she had al­ways dreamed she would.

“I went along and that was it,” she said. “I love danc­ing, es­pe­cially to Frank Si­na­tra.

“It’s lovely to have the friend­ships with ladies my age and the ex­er­cise is won­der­ful; it keeps our bod­ies and minds healthy.

“You have to use your mem­ory, which is im­por­tant when you’re get­ting older.”

Ms Somers said she will con­tinue danc­ing for as long as she can “keep up”.

“It makes me feel good,” she said.

A sup­port net­work

Old­est Grey Pan­thers mem­ber Bette Chap­man, 83, said she gets a “sense of be­long­ing with a group of friends who share their highs and lows”.

They per­formed at the Por­trait of a Se­nior Ter­ri­to­rian launch on Oc­to­ber 18 and have been booked for sev­eral Christ­mas events. They have also per­formed in more than 20 Tracks Dance full-length sea­sons.

“This has been one of the most con­sis­tent groups I’ve ever worked with,” Mr McMicken said. “They be­gan more like my mother 22 years ago.

“Now many are like my older sis­ters and brothers. They give me a strong sense of fam­ily.

“See­ing the sup­port and care th­ese women give to each other has been great. I re­ally miss the group if I have to go away for work.”

Mr McMicken said most of the mem­bers had “a great slice of Ter­ri­tory his­tory liv­ing in­side them”.

“With an age­ing pop­u­la­tion, it is the se­niors that pro­vide a great deal of vol­un­teer work for our so­ci­ety,” he said. “I see them as a great value to our fu­ture.

“I’m proud to be in­volved with the Grey Pan­thers and love that it’s dance that keeps them to­gether, and that some magic in­gre­di­ent is work­ing. I don’t like to mess with the magic.”

Photo: JUSTIN SANSON

Punny Vegter, An­toinetta Vanzella and Shirley Somers are

mem­bers of the Grey Pan­thers

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