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Ballet For Seniors: Dancing Without An Age Limit

Kelly Pratt | Kelly Pratt Photography
The Willows at Brooking Park hosts a Vitality Ballet class for their residents.

Ballerina Vanessa Woods came up with the idea for Vitality Ballet when she was looking for a side hustle that involved making a meaningful impact through movement. 

The founding principle of the organization is that no one is too old to learn to dance.

“I actually got the idea from my mom,” Woods said. “She’s an occupational therapist, and she works with older populations ... and I loved that idea. It immediately captured my imagination.”

Joan Harrison poses with Vanessa Woods and Joan's cat, Macaroon, during one of their dance sessions.
Credit Courtesy of Vanessa Woods
Joan Harrison poses with Vanessa Woods and Joan's cat, Macaroon, during one of their dance sessions.

For Woods, the major question was, “How could I create a dance program that would allow seniors to experience ballet?”

The classes are designed for adults 50 and older, and they are filled with modified dance moves and choreography. Eight years since its conception, Vitality Ballet now hosts about 300 classes per month in 85 assisted-living communities in the St. Louis area.

Joan Harrison is a St. Louis resident in her 80s, and she takes Vitality Ballet classes from a wheelchair. She says the sessions are inspiring.

“It just lifts me, lifts my whole being into another world,” she said. “The music is so calming and so beautiful, and I get a lot out of the exercises we do. I’m hoping, through these exercises, that in time I’ll be able to walk with a walker.”

In this St. Louis on the Air segment, Sarah Fenske talks with Woods, Harrison and Trish Kinealy, an activities director for assisted-living residents who brought Vitality Ballet classes to The Sheridan at Chesterfield.

Hear their conversation:

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Alexis Moore. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.