Dancing with Seniors.. kind of.

17 May

What: Roseland Dance with seniors

Where: Jewish Home & Hospital for the Aged, Upper West Side, thru New York Cares

When: Thursday, 630-815pm

When you first arrive at the Jewish Home and Hospital, you’ll be directed to the auditorium upstairs where you will meet the other volunteers and a few staff members. After a briefing about how to handle the residents (Alzheimer’s is prevalent here, so you’ll be given a few tips), you set off to one of the various wings to go get anyone who wants to dance and escort them down to the auditorium. Most of the residents (about 90% that I saw) are wheelchair-bound, and unable to go anywhere on their own. Because of this, the dance consists mainly of volunteers pushing residents around in a circle to the beat of the music. You can dance while you push, and even take a break every now and then to dance in place in front of your partner or with another volunteer. If you don’t have a dance partner, you can dance solo or take a seat next to one of the residents and keep them company while they listen to the music. Around 8 you’ll bring the residents back to their floors, bid them a good night, and be on your way.

Let me stress something very important that I learned quickly upon my arrival: Know where you’re going before you get there. I was completely unaware of the diminished mental and physical capacities of the residents here until I turned the corner and saw for myself. When I was growing up,and even now, I loved listening to my mom tell stories about the senior center she used to run in Brooklyn in the 1970’s. She spent her days and sometimes nights hosting dances with retired competitive dancers (who often wore their old costumes), and even ‘A Night at the Races’, where the seniors bet on video-taped horse races from years prior. They danced the Foxtrot with precision and played a nasty game of Bingo. They were mobile and aware of their surroundings. So naturally, I assumed that the ‘Roseland Dance’ I signed up for would be just like that. I was sadly mistaken. My first dance partner stared at a book on her lap the majority of the time while I danced my heart out behind her.  There were a few residents who danced or clapped in their chairs a little, and the only two men there used walkers and took a turn or two around the floor. This all would’ve been perfectly fine had I been prepared for it, but I wasn’t. Not in the least. Something a little online research would’ve told me, but I neglected to look into where I was going beyond getting subway directions on HopStop. I’ll be prepared next time, and now, so will you. Some other things to know:

– This is a very family-friendly activity. Bring the kids. There were two mothers who brought their young daughters to volunteer with them; they add a lot of positive energy and the residents seemed to enjoy watching them dance.

– Be prepared for what you’re going to see: this is mainly a long-term care facility. It’s a sad place. No one is pretending it’s not, and that’s why you’re there- to spread a little joy through music and dance, if only for an hour or so.

-You don’t need to know how to dance, just how to smile.

-I want to mention Lew, the New York Cares team leader, who has been doing Roseland for the past 9 years. It takes a big heart to do what he does every week, and it was inspirational to see someone so dedicated to bringing happiness into an otherwise dismal place. Lew also organizes a Senior Prom every year for the residents, which is on June 11th this year. You can read about it here in an article by the NY Times, and sign up to volunteer on the NY Cares website.

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