Ballet for Darien women knows no age limits
Late morning light was streaming in from the high windows in the Darien Senior Center gym Monday morning, landing on the rubberized floors with peeling green, yellow and black court lines. In the front of the room, four portable ballet barres are set up in front of a wall of mirrors.
At 11:30 a.m., the outdated gym is transformed into a ballet studio where seven women in their late 60s and 70s grip the barre in front of them and work through a series of moves to primarily learn ballet, but to also increase strength and balance.
They're graceful and poised as if the barre is a place of comfort for them. They're dressed in flowing skirts and opaque tights in either light pink or black. When they lift their feet of the ground, the bottoms of their soft ballet slippers are revealed and evidence of frequent use can be seen.
Hall refers to the ballet class as "slow intermediate."
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"Some of these ladies have started as adults, and some started as children and then came back to it," Hall said.
Eight years ago, Suzanne Wilsey, of Darien, saw a picture of the ballet class in the newspaper and remembered that she always had wanted to do ballet, but never was able to as a child.
Realizing it wasn't too late to start, Wilsey joined the class, and has been coming ever since.
Wilsey and the six other women in the Monday class lined the barre and followed along as Hall told them the series of moves they would complete.
"Tendu, plie, tendu," Hall said over the sounds of piano music emanating from the small stereo in the corner of the gym. "Beautiful, very nice," she said to the women.
Air momentarily churned through the vents, drowning out the sounds of the music.
"This is why we need to get out of here," Hall said with a smile. The new Mather Center that will be the home of the senior center, to which the women and Hall are looking forward, has studio space with mirrored walls and ballet barres for the class.
She returned to the class and demonstrated a rond de jambe -- half-circles made by a pointed foot.
"I really want you to think about that big toe reach out in front," Hall said as the women extended their toes out in front of them. "I want you to look at those feet and reach those big toes."
As the class neared its end, the smell of lunch made its way into the gym as the women danced without the bars.
Ballet provides many health benefits for the women.
"Posture, posture is key as we're getting older," Dorothy Shergalis, of Darien, said. "Ballet makes you aware of your body, even when you're standing in line at the grocery store."
Hall said the classes provide a degree of social therapy for the women.
"These women are so supportive of each other," Hall said and spoke about Pat Podkowsky, of Darien, who joined the class just a month ago and is visibly comfortable in the class. She added that ballet also benefits the women's flexibility, strength as well as memory because they need to remember the dance combinations.
"They're more aware of their bodies," Hall said. "They feel good about themselves."
Claire DeLuth, of Stamford, said she always has attended theater ballet and decided to take the class after seeing an article in the newspaper.
"I practice around the house," she said with a smile.
Shergalis is responsible for bringing several of the women to the class, including Podkowsky and Lorna Lubash, who used to tap dance with Shergalis.
"It's a form of exercise that's not exercise," Shergalis said. "It's dance."
Podkoswky said the class serves as a support group and that the women end up sharing their "trials and tribulations" about life outside of the class.
"The long and short of it is that we like it," Podkowsky said as the women left the class.
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