Dancing Their Way to Health

St. Louis’ Vitality Ballet program provides health, fun and fitness to area seniors.

Exercise is good for the body and the mind. During exercise, the brain releases chemicals and endorphins that produce a zen-like feeling of happiness. Studies also prove that physical exertion not only builds strong bones and muscles, it also improves quality of sleep, increases feelings of self-worth and can even help ward off feelings of depression.

New research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease suggests that exercise has an even greater benefit for seniors by preventing and improving symptoms of memory loss, Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The most encouraging part of the study, however, comes at the discovery that any calorie-burning activity is effective at increasing gray matter volume and improving overall brain health.

Vitality Ballet, a community-based program founded by Vanessa Woods, is part of the wellness program at Webster Groves Assisted Living and Memory Care and offers residents the opportunity to partake in an invigorating exercise class that feels less like a workout and more like a fun time with friends.

Woods, is a professional dancer with over 24 years of classical training. Originally from New Jersey, she has trained at the Conservatory of Dance at SUNY Purchase, Miami City Ballet School, Princeton Ballet and STEPS on Broadway in New York City. Woods has spent her professional life traveling the country to perform with an array of notable ballet companies and instructing at numerous ballet academies. She currently lives in St. Louis and dances with the Saint Louis Ballet, performing soloist and principal roles while also teaching for the school as an instructor.

Vitality Ballet started in 2012 with a handful of participating senior living communities and has blossomed to serve more than 50 locations throughout the St. Louis area. Woods’ philosophy centers around providing new and engaging fitness alternatives to older adults.

A professional ballet dance instructor leads the class, which is designed to meet a variety of fitness and flexibility needs. Seniors can stand or remain seated while performing combinations of modified ballet steps and stretches with accompanying classical music. Those who require the use of walking aids or wheelchairs, or seniors who have issues with balance or Vertigo can safely benefit from the program.

Kathleen Burke, activities manager at Provision Living in Webster Groves, integrated Vitality Ballet into the overall wellness and activates program at the senior living community after being approached by Woods in 2015. Since the first class, participation has steadily increased and it has become one of the most popular activities on the calendar.

“It’s a wonderful program that offers our seniors something different,” says Burke. “The gym experience isn’t for everyone, and I quickly realized that many of my residents did not enjoy the traditional exercise environment, either because they got bored quickly with the repetition or they were just uncomfortable with traditional exercise equipment.”

Vitality Ballet has given Burke the ability to make exercise more accessible and fun for people who would otherwise lead more sedentary lives. “It has been encouraging for many of our residents to realize that the activities that they already enjoy doing – like gardening and dancing – are very good forms of exercise,” she says.

Provision Living at Webster Groves is now opening up their twice-monthly class to other seniors in the area. The group meets every first and third Wednesday of the month from 10:00 – 11:00 a.m. Burke encourages people to attend, regardless of their previous experience with exercise classes. “It’s a fun, friendly and welcoming environment. This class definitely sparks something in people and we want to share that with our friends in the Webster Groves community.”

For details about Vitality Ballet, please contact Kathleen Burke, Activities Manager at Provision Living at Webster Groves: kburke@www.provisionliving.com or (314) 918-7300.

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