'Silver Swans' taking to the barre later in life for ballet lessons

More pensioners are taking up ballet in a bid to stay fit and lead a healthier, longer life

More and more pensioners are taking up ballet, according to the Royal Academy of Dance. It is putting the phenomenon down to the popularity of TV programmes like Strictly Come Dancing.

In a locker room at Scottish Ballet, a group of dancers are lacing up their ballet shoes.

Only one thing marks them out from the other dancers here.

Start Quote

I just love it and it makes you feel a bit young again”

End Quote Alicia Steele

These dancers are all in their 60s and 70s.

Today, they are rehearsing Swan Lake.

Among them is Alicia Steele. She danced when she was young. Now, nearly 80, she's back.

"I went to keep fit classes, but I found them a bit boring," she says.

"And I love the music with the piano. I just love it and it makes you feel a bit young again. It doesn't make you look young, but it makes you feel young inside."

There's been a 70% jump in the number of adult dancers signing up for classes in recent years, according to the Royal Academy of Dance.

Some, like Alicia, danced when they were young. Others are complete beginners.

Their oldest ballerina is 102.

'Amazing thing'

Preston Clare, teacher of the Scottish Ballet's Regenerate group, says he has been astonished by the change he has seen in his older pupils.

"The amazing thing with these ladies is they've grown," he says.

"They've stopped slouching now and it's just fantastic to see the difference in them.

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Dance is something that can be modified to all ages and all levels of experience”

End Quote Dr Anne Hogan Royal Academy of Dance

"They're opening up completely and able to feel more confident in themselves."

The lessons at Scottish Ballet have proved so popular, they have added extra classes, and they still have a waiting list.

Ballet is good for muscles, balance and memory, but 68-year-old Alison Templeton says it is not just the physical challenge she comes for.

"A number of the ladies have lost husbands this year, including myself, and the support of the other ladies is just remarkable," she says.

"It does help, and it gives you a focus to go out in the week and do something."

Marlene Gillespie, 71, says she absolutely loves the experience. "I can't wait to come," she says. "I love the music. I love the exercise.

"We have good days, bad days, we've all been through different things. And I just think it's a wonderful way to exercise, especially for elderly people."

Renee Gillespie, 75, adds: "You know you can't really do what you're asked to do but you have great fun trying. And so it's good exercise, it's great fun and it's wonderfully sociable."

Ballet A week of free ballet lessons is being planned for across Scotland in January

While some senior citizens are taking on the classics, Dr Anne Hogan, from the Royal Academy of Dance, says for others there is the more gentle option of armchair ballet.

"Dance is something that can be modified to all ages and all levels of experience," she says.

"In the programme recently, when we trained people to work with older learners, they went into situations in some of the care homes where you had people who had to be seated the entire class, but had a great dance class.

"There's lots of movement that can be adapted to people's needs."

Following the Genee, the world's biggest dance competition, held in Glasgow last month, the Royal Academy of Dance is holding a week of free ballet lessons across Scotland in January.

They hope it will get even more people spend their twilight years at the barre.

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