Dance program helps the elderly find health and happiness

March 30, 2010

Sponsored elderly in El Salvador perform for the Walk2gether team and sponsors visiting for a mission awareness trip.

Twice a week, 36 sponsored elderly gather to dance together.

The room is filled with laughter and chatter. Then, the dance class is called to order. The dancers form rows and stand attentively, waiting for instruction.

Their teacher, Ana Mirriam Peñate, begins the stretching routine before leading them in the dances. All of this – the dance program and group interaction – is possible because they are sponsored through CFCA’s Hope for a Family program in El Salvador.

The elderly dancers are happy, and they are smiling, thanks to the opportunity provided to them and the care shown by the project staff.

It wasn’t always this way

Mirna Gutierrez, CFCA social worker for the Santa Ana project, said she was looking for a benefit that would enhance the quality of sponsored elderly members’ lives, outside of the typical benefits that cover basic needs, and that’s when she focused on their living situations.

“I noticed how most of them live in conditions of abandonment, even those who have family, because sometimes they are seen as a burden for the family,” Gutierrez said. “Some of their relatives feel that it is too hard to take them out or [they are] too fragile to be moved, so they spend their days at home, just aging.”

It was then when she had the idea of creating a dance and gym program for the elderly. Gutierrez conferred about the safety and positive effects with a local doctor, who loved the idea.

“She said it was the best way to reduce lots of the illnesses they were suffering from and to get them out of their isolation and depression,” Gutierrez said.

Let the dancing begin

The dance program began officially in August 2009. Peñate, a dance instructor, took charge of the class and began working with 60 of the CFCA elderly. She evaluated their range of motion and then created a stretching and dance routine based on her evaluation.

“I learned their illnesses and weaknesses. And then, I danced with them,” she said.

To help loosen their joints and muscles and extend their range of motion, she concentrated on simple stretches and bends, mostly of the wrists, elbows, knees and ankles. They also twist to loosen up their lower backs.

Watch a video of Juan Antonio
Click the photo to watch a video of Juan Antonio

Peñate knows first aid and other safety techniques to help them work through the pain of loosening stiffened joints and strengthening atrophied muscles. Still, nearly 30 of the elderly stopped attending the class because they found it difficult to work through the initial discomfort of new exercise routine.

Juan Antonio, however, was one who persevered. He entered the classroom on his first day with a cane. Today, Juan Antonio, 80, one of only six men still participating in the dance program, can move freely without the aid of a walking device, even when he dances.

Performing for an audience

Las Cortadoras video
Click the photo to watch the dancers perform

It took the dancers two months to prepare their routine, called “Las Cortadoras” (The Coffee Pickers). They have performed for the Walk2gether team, sponsors on mission awareness trips, and during the Celebration of the Day of the Elderly, where they received local news coverage. They have plans to perform for the local theater in the National Cultural Celebration, and also for future CFCA mission awareness trips.

Gutierrez is happy with the progress she has seen in their emotional and mental health.

“I have discovered that this has brought happiness inside of them. They now have the opportunity to socialize with others,” she said. “Some of the elderly ladies who used to be very sad and did not fix themselves at all – now you see them with very nice hair, using some makeup, looking beautiful inside and out. The men look motivated. They know they have a place to go, and they find all possible ways to be there on time.”

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Visit our Facebook page to view pictures of the dance class.