Dancing away the Golden Years
I think I may have discovered the proverbial ‘fountain of youth’ in Magog, last Friday, and it looked like a pair of tap-dancing shoes. I visited the Janann Dance Studio to meet with the studio’s owner, Rachel Pagé, and her
two most senior tap-dancing students: France Dion, of Magog, and Boynton’s Andrée Clorenger Kemp, both in their seventies. Together, the three dancers put on free dance performances at seniors residences and for other social organizations, both entertaining their audiences as well as inspiring them.
“We’ve given performances in Granby, Sherbrooke, Montreal, Outremont and Magog,” said France, who began tapping at 67. “Up to now, we have performed in twenty residences across southern Quebec,” commented Andrée who was a little younger, 66, when she first put on a pair of tap shoes.
I was treated to a performance myself in the studio on St. Patrice Street, and I couldn’t have been more impressed. The two women in their seventies, I can’t call them old after watching them dance, tap-danced three choreographies, with style and grace, like dancers half their age. They are nicely complimented by their teacher who is an excellent dancer, updating her training regularly in the United States.
How these two septuage- narians first began tap-dancing almost seven years ago is a heart-warming example of the power of friendship. “At the end of August my eldest sister passed away. A few days later on my way to a nursery to buy plants with France, she asked me if it was my time to leave this earth, was there any dream I had not yet realized. After a short period of reflection, I answered that the only thing I wish I had done was tapdancing. It had been a dream of mine since I was a little girl,” explained Mrs. Kemp.
Without Andrée’s knowledge, France contacted dance instructor Rachel Pagé and asked her: “Would you teach two old ladies to tap dance?”
“At first we did a lot of exercises and we had to work on their equilibrium. One of the first things I taught them was to put their weight down on the insides of their feet; this would minimize the chance of any knee or hip injury,” commented Rachel who has been a dance instructor at the Magog studio for sixteen years, dancing and choreographing much longer. She took over the dance studio from her mother who founded it thirty-two years ago. “They are now both good dancers and they’ve kept their own style,” she added.
Taking up tap-dancing at such a late stage in life has proven to be, besides a lot of fun, quite beneficial. “It’s so healthy to dance,” said Mrs. Dion who takes lessons three times a week. “We wish everyone could do it. It gives you confidence, gives you a good shape, and gives you lots of energy.”
“My bone density has improved,” said Andrée who was once at risk to develop osteoporosis. “Dance class is my best hour of the week – je sors mon fou! I can’t believe that, at this age, something could transform me. I had a stroke in 1999 that left me paralyzed for half a day; I couldn’t even remember phone numbers for about six months. I can’t believe it when I look in the mirror and I’m so thankful that I’m not in a wheelchair,” commented Andrée who must write down all the intricate steps of the choreographies and practice them every day to retain them in her memory.
“When you dance regularly your health becomes stronger- you even absorb vitamins and minerals better. The more you move the more your mind improves, too. And having to remember all the choreographies is good for the brain,” added Ms. Pagé.
More recently, France was able to convince Ms. Pagé to begin teaching her classical ballet. This led to the dance teacher starting a beginners’ ballet class for people in the ‘ troisieme age’, a class that is now full! “Studying ballet has given me more grace and control of my movements,” said Mrs. Dion.
Following the dance demonstration, France explained where she got the idea to put on performances in seniors residences. “We used to visit senior residences to give away books and our games every year,” said France who has co-authored many bird books and created educational games with her husband, André Dion. “I would often think of those people; it really means something to me.”
“Doing the performances has also had benefits for France and Andrée. France has developed her stage presence and Andrée has developed her confidence,” mentioned their teacher who also enjoys performing for the seniors.
These three dancers would love to perform, free of charge, at seniors residences in the region. “We’re ready to go and we’re happy to go!” concluded Mrs. Dion. If you’d like the dancers to visit your seniors residence, contact France Dion at 819 868-9094 or at email@example.com.
Seen from left to right are Rachel Pagé, Andreé Clorenger Kemp and France Dion as they practice a tap-dancing routine at Janann Dance Studio, in Magog.