Remember “Bend and stretch … reach for the stars?” the guiding anthem of kindergarten class? Well guess what. You haven’t graduated kindergarten yet. Moving your body and staying physically active is a lifelong occupation, not just the task of six year-olds. As the population ages, and many of us pass our days glued to a chair pecking at an electronic device, someone out there admonishes us to shake our tail bones.
That is Naomi Goldberg Haas, the irrepressible artistic director and the Pied Piper of Dances for a Variable Population, inspiring older adults to move more and to embrace the study of dance. Goldberg has morphed her lifelong dance career from her beginnings as a classically trained dancer to her current ubiquitous presence in the parks, libraries and senior and community centers of New York City.
“I am a dancer,” says Goldberg, an assertion that comes as no surprise to anyone viewing her slender, lithe figure. “I was a former ballerina; I danced with Pacific Northwest Ballet. But I believe dance is for everyone. Expression is for everyone. The wellness that is the benefit of dance is for everyone.”
Goldberg’s relentless high energy (she’s joyful in action, and ports a blasting voice) can cull real results with even the most resistant couch potato. I had the distinct pleasure of attending DVP’s festive holiday party, pictured here, at Queensbridge Riis Senior Center in the Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City.
Whether on the makeshift stage, or seated as spectators, everyone found a spare body part to pitch in. Goldberg barked like an unforgiving drill sergeant, “arms! arms! arms! arms!” then, reaching above her head, she swapped to “hand, hand, hand, hand!” twisting and grasping the air as though plucking the highest apple from the tree. Gradually, inhibitions dispersed. Everyone bent-and-stretched.
It’s fun getting jiggy and loose in public. But DVP’s mission is much more serious, according to Goldberg: “Our population is growing older. The need for mobility is critical,” she says, adding the alarming truth, “Lack of movement is a public health issue.”
“Movement is so essential; it is so meaningful to your core, to your life force, to your well-being. Movement Speaks targets underserved and low-income populations where studying dance is a new experience. There are not enough enriching cultural and, specifically, dance mastery programs available to older adults. We all struggle with our health and reduced social interaction as we age.
“When you see an older person moving, using their body, you feel inspired to move more yourself. We have a multi-generational company, a team of dancers trained in our methodology, the youngest is 24, our oldest company member is 85. So, the impact is immediate.”
photo credit: Kelly Stuart, for Dance for a Variable Population