At 71, Kathleen Klein may not look like a traditional ballerina, but good luck removing that tutu from her waist.
Or that smile from her face.
“I’ve always loved ballet,” the High Point woman says. “When I was 3 until I was about 15, I did ballet, and it’s never really left me. My technique has definitely left me, but not my love for ballet.”
Klein is one of several women participating in Beginners Ballet for Seniors, a relatively new class offered at the Roy B. Culler Jr. Senior Center for individuals 50 and older. The center began offering the ballet class in November, and participation has gradually grown as word of mouth has spread.
Klein says she joined the class mainly because of her love for ballet, but the class has also improved her strength and overall fitness, as well as her balance.
“When you reach a certain age, you begin to lose your sense of balance,” Klein says. “But since I’ve been coming here, my balance is so much better than it was before.”
According to class instructor Kelly Dorrough, she incorporates beginner ballet steps and poses along with simple, fun dance combinations to help seniors with their posture, strength, flexibility and balance, while being careful not to let them overdo it.
“I definitely am mindful of physical challenges that people face, like hip replacements or knee replacements or arthritis, or whatever issues they may have,” Dorrough explains. “There are some things we do that can be challenging for some people, so I always offer modifications for them, because I still want them to be able to get the benefits from it.”
During some exercises, chairs are provided for additional stability when needed.
While Klein — who delights in wearing a tutu to class each week — has a background in ballet, that’s not the case for all of the class members.
“I have two left feet,” confides 72-year-old Veronica Harris of High Point, who just joined the class in April. “I have the will, but not the coordination. I’m also very critical of myself sometimes — I worry about what people think of me — but I’m trying to get out of that, and this group has given me so much encouragement. There’s never any judgment here.”
Wendy Tenenoff, also of High Point, couldn’t agree more.
“Before I came here, I was like, ‘I’m not going there — I’m not a senior citizen!’ ” Tenenoff recalls with a chuckle. “But I came, and these are the most lively, vibrant people — I was amazed. It’s a wonderful environment. Everybody’s very friendly, everybody’s encouraging, everybody does the best that they can, and everybody’s proud of them for what they can do.”
Tenenoff, 65, has physical challenges that some of her fellow classmates do not. Last October, she experienced an episode similar to a stroke, but not classified as such, that rendered her unable to walk, affected her balance and impaired her memory. Then, in early February, she inexplicably fell three times in one day. She also has back and shoulder issues, and was recently diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy.
“I’m trying to figure out what’s the best thing for me, so I started this class,” Tenenoff says. “I also do AHOY (Adding Health to Our Years, an exercise class offered through the senior center), but I enjoy this in particular because I love dance, and it’s good for my balance.”
Tenenoff credits Dorrough, the instructor, for helping her adapt to what she can do.
“I can’t do ballet — I can’t dance yet — but Kelly is wonderful, because she incorporates ballet moves and we do them to the best of our ability, with the goal of getting as close as you can to what the move is supposed to look like,” she says.
The class members recently performed in the North Carolina Senior Games, where the judges gave them high scores for their presentation, enthusiasm and showmanship. The judges’ comments seem to have boosted the dancers’ enthusiasm.
“That’s probably the most rewarding part of this for me,” says Dorrough, who began dancing as a little girl and has been teaching for years.
“When you’re teaching little kids, they all want to be in a tutu and up on the stage and dreaming of being a ballerina, but I think it’s much more transformative at this age. People come in here and they say, ‘I’ve learned so much about myself in this class.’ They’re confident, and it’s so rewarding to see how ballet has such a transformative effect on them.”