Phyllis Grayson can’t stop dancing—she does pliés at the microwave and élevés while the oven preheats. She’s dancing through her days thanks to ballet class at Senior Action, and in only six months, her legs are firmer, her balance is better, and she’s even grown half an inch.
“It’s my posture,” she says. “You keep hearing that you’re shrinking, but then they told me I gained half an inch, and the only thing I can attribute it to is ballet.”
Senior Action began offering ballet last fall as part of its Fine Arts Center, which offers a variety of courses beyond the organizations’ typical offerings. Students pay a 12-week tuition and can enjoy classes including guitar, oil painting, pottery, and several dance options, all taught by expert instructors.
Classical Ballet is taught by Josha Williams, who danced professionally for seven years at Carolina Ballet Theatre. Her Senior Action students rave about her approach, which starts with the basics, and is ideal for ballet beginners, “but she doesn’t dumb it down,” Grayson says. “It’s more work than you would think!”
Williams, who also teaches Pure Barre exercise classes, says this is not an exercise class—it’s strictly a ballet class, though exercises to shape and tone muscles are sometimes incorporated.
“We started from the ground up: your feet, how do you distribute your weight, how do you find stability? I wanted to make sure that when they walked into this class, they felt like it was possible,” Williams says.
Grayson had tried ballet when she was 40 (she is now 71) and ran into that very problem; that class was too advanced, and she felt out of place. She said anyone can feel included in the Senior Action class. “I felt like I was the least qualified person,” she says. “I don’t look like a ballet dancer. But it’s been wonderful.”
Susan Brown-Stewart has more dance experience, including a couple of years of ballet in college and many years of ethnic dancing, jazz, and tap. She also works out seven days a week, but the class still added an important element to her fitness routine. “It reminds you of integrating all of your body parts together,” says Brown-Stewart, who started in January. “It’s every muscle group, with every step you take. This class brought that back to me.”
Both women say the class helped them with physical issues they have been grappling with. Grayson can now balance on her leg that has an artificial knee, while Brown-Stewart has degenerative disc disease and says the class helps her feel better. Many of the participants also take advantage of Senior Action’s other fitness offerings, including Silver Sneakers exercise classes, the swimming pool, and the weight room.
The class is brushing up on skills and hopes to offer a demonstration in the near future. Grayson jokes that they are calling it a “demonstration” because saying “performance” might make the dancers too nervous.
But Williams knows the class would conquer those fears. “Whether it’s something they always wanted to do, or it used to give them joy, they have the bravery to walk in and figure out what’s possible for them,” she says. “I want to match that. They inspire me.”
Want to try it?
Spring Semester: April 4-June 24
Fine Arts Center annual enrollment fee: $50 (waived for Senior Action Members)
Class Tuition (per 12-week semester): 1 class, $140; 2 classes, $130 each; 3 or more, $120 each
More information: senioraction.org
Class options include:
- Contemporary Dance
- Dance Improvisation
- Poetry & Dance
- Great American Songbook
- Watercolor Painting
- Fiber Arts: Felting
Ballet phrases to know:
Piqué: pricked, pricking; stepping directly on the pointe of the working foot
Pirouette: whirl or spin; a complete turn of the body on one foot
Plié: Bent, bending.
Port de bras: carriage of the arms
En croix: in the shape of a cross
Fouetté: to whip
Relevé: to rise