14 September 2023

Seniors hit the stage: All-ages dance class creates connections spanning generations

| Keeli Royle
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Rosalynne Boothroyd and her exercise by dance class members.

Rosalynne’s Exercise By Dance class is creating opportunities for older adults to return to the stage. Photo: Supplied.

A local dance teacher is helping seniors strap on their tap shoes and experience the incredible physical and social benefits of returning to the stage, with inclusive classes for all ages and levels of mobility.

Doris Boothroyd started Shellharbour Village’s first dance school in the 1950s and from a young age, her daughter Rosalynne knew that she wanted to follow in her mother’s rhythmic footsteps.

“I just live to dance,” Rosalynne said. “I can remember even in primary school, the only pictures I ever painted was a stage with curtains on it.”

She achieved her teaching certificate at age 16 but had started to feel the joys of sharing her knowledge many years earlier.

“It was actually when I was teaching when I was probably only 10,” she said. “Mum would say, ‘Take her in the back and show her a dance’ and then the kid would do it at Wollongong Eisteddfod, so I’ve really always done it.”

Now, almost six decades later, the 74-year-old is still coming up with routines and providing opportunities for people to experience the benefits of the activity with her Exercise By Dance classes, with participants aged from 30 all the way to 80.

Rosalynne Boothroyd photo in costume as dancer.

Rosalynne has worked as a professional dancer but now dedicates her time to teaching. Photo: Supplied.

The inclusive classes have made it possible for many to continue doing something they love, or even pick up an old skill from their childhood.

Louise Hudson started dancing when she was nine but ended up moving away as a kid and stopping classes.

A couple of years ago she wanted to get back into it and tried to find a class that suited her needs.

“I was watching I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here and I saw Olivia Newton-John’s niece on there and every day she tap danced and she’s saying it’s great exercise and I thought, jeez, I’d love to tap-dance again, there’s got to be an adult class,” Louise said.

“I started doing ballet dancing but I didn’t really love it and one of the girls there had a friend who tap danced and I said, ‘That’s what I want to do!”’

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And she discovered her new teacher had a familiar face and was in fact her original dance instructor’s daughter.

“I actually met Rosalynne when I was about 10 and she said, ‘This is my daughter Rosalynne and she’s going to start classes soon’.”

Patricia Cotter has been dancing, on and off, all her life and has explored many styles.

“When I was younger I had a slight physical coordination problem and I was advised to take up Highland dancing and that would help it, so it’s always been sort of there,” Patricia said.

Louise Hudson in costume as 9 or 10 year old.

As a young girl, Louise Hudson (pictured) was taught by Rosalynne’s mother. Photo: Supplied.

Patricia, now in her 70s, is still reaping the benefits the tap classes provide.

“Dancing at our age, it’s great for us for fitness but also for enjoyment,” Patricia said. “I think that’s a tribute to Rosalynne that she’s able to design them because it is harder for people to find.”

Rosalynne said: “Tap dancing is apparently one of the best things you can do, especially when you get older. It also keeps the mind occupied and working, and it’s low impact and people prefer it to the gym.”

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But for participants like Kirsten Nixon, it’s as much about the camaraderie as it is exercise.

“Rosalynne’s dance school has a strong sense of community,” Kirsten said. “I always feel like I’ve found my people when I’m with my dance buddies.

“I feel like I’ve come home.”

The group of like-minded people regularly catch up for meals, coffees and to see shows, even when it’s outside of the dance term.

They have even starred in some shows themselves.

“We opened for Seniors Week, which was so much fun,” Louise said. “Getting to perform is just so great.”

During the school term, Rosalynne runs classes from Shellharbour Village, Gerrigong and Shell Cove, teaching everything from tap dancing and jazz ballet to classical ballet, stretching and balance.

To find out more or to sign up, visit the Exercise By Dance website.

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