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Seniors tripping the light fantastic at Bermuda College

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Silver swans: senior ballet enthusiasts, from left, Maureen Eddy, Sally Kyle, Betsy Baillie, Elspeth Dunlop and Paulina Brooks (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Paulina Brooks still remembers the day she got to dance on stage with famed ballet dancer Monica Mason. It was 1964 and she was 10.

“I am a twin,” the 68-year-old recalled. “My twin and I were chosen to be page boys when the Royal Ballet came here to dance. We were on stage at City Hall for all of two minutes.”

Betsy Baillie stopped dancing at 15, and later regretted it. “I loved it so much,” she said.

Maureen Eddy never got the chance to dance. Piano lessons were much more fashionable when she was little, at least according to her parents.

“My brother was really good at piano, but I was tone deaf,” she said. “I was always athletic, though.”

When she started the Silver Swans classes four years ago, she was able to get on her toes, right from the beginning.

Thanks to the Silver Swans, a ballet class at the Lifelong Learning Centre at the Bermuda College people over 55 have a chance to do their pliés and chassés, all over again, or for the first time.

Professional instruction: Silver Swan Elspeth Dunlop shows off her Royal Academy of Dance emblazoned gear (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

The class was first introduced by the Royal Academy of Dance in England in 2017, as a way to help older people become more flexible and physically active. There are now classes taught globally.

Out of the hundreds of Silver Swans classes worldwide, Bermuda’s was one of only ten chosen for a video montage to be shown at RAD headquarters in Battersea, London. On October 1 the RAD will be celebrating their seniors dance programme as part of International Day of the Older Persons.

Silver Swans dance instructor Jayne Burnet applied for the class to be part of the event.

To get them in, she had to write about her experience with the class, how long they had been dancing, and how they had handled the challenges of the pandemic.

“I knew they would be chosen,” she said.

However, when she and Bermuda class founder Mary Faulkenberry suggested to the class that they take part, there was panic.

It had been half a century since some of the Silver Swans had performed in front of an audience, so naturally, they were a little shy.

“First they panicked,” Ms Faulkenberry said. “But the mood quickly shifted to ‘why not’.”

The dancers were willing to overcome their nerves because they wanted to show their support for the Silver Swans.

“We are incredibly lucky to have a wonderful teacher,” Ms Brooks said. “The class is done so professionally. Jayne does lots and lots of training, so the dancing and the moves are worked out for people of our age. It is lovely not to worry about straining your body.”

Ms Baillie jokingly grumbled that Ms Burnet used “a lot of fancy French names” for the movements. “It is fantastic,” she said.

Ms Faulkenberry handled the filming of the class held on the ground floor of the North Hall at the Bermuda College. Ms Burnet led the dancers.

“We need three minutes of footage,” Ms Faulkenberry said.

Seven dancers arrived 30 minutes early on Thursday, to get in a little practice ahead of time. This was actually the first day of class after summer break.

A few of the participants were missing because of injury, illness or travel.

They were supposed to film the day before, but the Bermuda College was closed pending the approach of Hurricane Idalia.

They stood at the barre doing footwork, and then did some more warm-ups.

“Shall we practise a little more,” Ms Burnet asked the class.

“No, let’s just get on with it,” one of the dancers said.

First, though, there was a bit of a struggle with the equipment, namely the instructors’ mobile phones. One had to be used to project the music and the other for filming.

The RAD had a couple of rules. The camera had to be oriented a certain way. There could be no furniture showing in the footage, and the dance instructors could not be visible.

While the teachers worked out the technical kinks out, the dancers chatted.

Then when the music launched they went flawlessly through their barre work, and then their dance.

“It is a solo from Giselle, adapted to suit the Silver Swans,” Ms Burnet explained. “They were working on it at the end of last term.”

The celebration at the RAD will be open to anyone in the Silver Swans class, and will also include live performances and workshops.

None of Bermuda’s ballet dancers will be able to attend, so they are hoping to watch everything online, together.

“This is the first time we have had a chance to do anything like this, so it is quite exciting,” Ms Burnet said.

Many of the dancers have been coming to the class ever since Ms Faulkenberry launched it in 2019.

“I am retired myself,” Ms Faulkenberry said. “I knew I was going to be travelling lot, so I brought Jayne on board. It is an excellent programme, and growing in popularity. It’s not only good for the physical body, but mentally. They are having to think in ballet. It is also a social activity.”

Ms Burnett has seen a rapid improvement in her students’ balance. The classes are adaptive.

“It can be taught to be people in wheelchairs,” Ms Faulkenberry said. “Although, we have not yet had a student like that.”

The class in Bermuda actually began as the Senior Swans, and was based on the British RAD programme. Ms Burnet has now taken the RAD’s specialised Silver Swans’ teacher training in England.

“I am now licensed, so we can officially call ourselves the Silver Swans,” Ms Burnet said.

Dancers now proudly sport “Royal Academy of Dance” printed on the back of their gear.

The pandemic broke out almost as soon as the dance class was in the air, bringing some new challenges to Ms Burnet and Ms Faulkenberry.

“We did two years over Zoom,” Ms Burnet said. “I could only see my students from the waist up. I could not see their feet.”

She laughed remembering this. However, the dancers were conscientious about practising at home.

“We all got into a routine of moving the furniture and rolling back the carpet,” dancer Ms Baillie said.

When Ms Burnet was able to get into the classroom with them again, she was relieved to see that most of them were doing the right things with their feet.

The Silver Swan classes run once a week at 10.45am on Fridays.

The Lifelong Learning Centre at the Bermuda College offers a range of classes for people over 55. Twelve sessions are $85.

For more information call 239-4129 or e-mail llc@college.bm

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Published September 06, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated September 07, 2023 at 8:10 am)

Seniors tripping the light fantastic at Bermuda College

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