Dance me to the end of adulthood

People throughout the world have been dancing for thousands of years and not just young people. Seven people share their experiences of taking up dance lessons as adults.

From leg irons to tap dancing

David Watson, 83, took up tap dancing in his 40s, and has danced ever since.

He took up it up by chance, after accompanying a friend from work to a dance class in Melbourne.

The ex-architecture lecturer recalled the very first lesson on a "lousy" floor located above a porn shop in Swanston Street.

"I used to have to hide my face as I walked in," Mr Watson laughed.

As one of the only two men in the class, he learned to tap with his toe, then progressed to a step called the 'flap', and eventually worked his way through the whole "dictionary of stuff".

"Until 40 years later you've kind of got it," Mr Watson said.

The octogenarian said he "can't help" tap dancing; spurred on by the rhythm, timing and music.

"If I hear good swing music I dance," he said.

Born with "twisted" shin bones, Mr Watson spent his early years in leg irons and walked pigeon toed even after they were removed.

His mother's solution was to enrol him in ballet lessons, despite his insistence on wanting to learn tap dance, after first hearing swing music at the age of ten.

He only lasted six weeks at ballet.

It wasn't until he was in university that he took up the Mambo to impress a girl.

"By the time I'd actually learned how to do the Mambo the girl had "gone off and got herself married", Mr Watson recalled, "I lost interest in her anyway".

Through dancing, Mr Watson finds a freedom unimaginable in everyday life, and looks to dancing as a way to explore who he is.

"Dancing is all about expressing feelings", he said.

"You don't become conscious of yourself, you're only conscious of the music, and the sound that you're making and the feeling that the music gives you."

The dancing doctor

Through dancing, Mr Watson finds a freedom unimaginable in everyday life, and looks to dancing as a way to explore who he is.

"Dancing is all about expressing feelings", he said.

"You don't become conscious of yourself, you're only conscious of the music, and the sound that you're making and the feeling that the music gives you."

The dancing doctor

Richard Mayes always loved to dance, but juggling roles as a father-of-two, husband, and work as a GP who also practices obstetrics, meant free time to attend dance lessons was scarce.

Until fate stepped in.

"I thought of this idea for an eighties dance therapy class, but it never happened — life got busy and it seemed like a crazy, silly idea," Dr Mayes said.

When a timely phone call from a local dance teacher with a vision to start an adult dance class, collided with his own similar idea, the doctor's future destiny as a dancer was sealed.

Now, every Monday night when he's not being called out to deliver babies, Dr Mayes joins a soul-funk adult dance class in his home-town of Castlemaine.

"The beauty of dancing in a group is that even if you're a bit behind in timing, or you might miss a move … we're all in this together," he said.

The classes have introduced Dr Mayes to a range of hip-hop, contemporary jazz and breakdancing positions, including domestically-titled moves such as the 'sprinkler' and the 'shopping trolley'.

"It's that sort of dance floor daggy dancing that makes me laugh, and people laugh," he said.

Recently the class staged a flash mob dance routine at the local supermarket as part of the Castlemaine Fringe Festival, which has since been viewed on social media more than 100,000 times.

"It took 43 years but finally I became a dance performer", Dr Mayes said.

"It was such a buzz, and I remember thinking after we ended up doing two encores, and people loving it, 'Oh, I wish I had have been into this from a young age'".

The experience of taking part in the flash mob at his local supermarket has given Dr Mayes the confidence to "let the real me out".

"In my professional world there's set rules on how to behave and even how to be," he said.

"I'm a father and a doctor and all these things, and to be now known as dancer as well has given me confidence.

"All your worries and stresses just fall away, you switch off … into that relaxed meditative kind of state, but moving your body at the same time".

Feel like a teenager again

When Liz Dawborn's husband died suddenly four years ago, the grief was overwhelming.

Married for almost 37 years, she knew the only way she could keep going was to try to make a new life for herself, taking it one day at a time.

"You've got family and you don't want them to see you down all the time," Ms Dawborn said.

After the initial shock and anger of his death subsided, she "started to push herself out", took up running, then Latin and formal dancing, and finally arrived at rock'n'roll dancing.

Having never danced with her husband before and looking for a challenge the 65 year-old took a leap of faith and joined the Bendigo Jailhouse Rockers dance classes.

"It's like a big rock'n'roll family now, it's just wonderful," Ms Dawborn said.

After initially feeling frustrated with not being able to remember the steps, she admitted to being "hooked" after some solid practice.

"I'd just practised the whole week until I had it down pat and go back the next Monday and work out what I didn't know," Ms Dawborn said.

With rock'n'roll, the new grandmother said she had found her niche, and re-ignited the "vibrancy" of her youth.

"I've found me — I'm a teenager again," Ms Dawborn laughed.

Being on the dance floor the rock'n'roller said there was a "sense of freedom" and she felt "over the moon".

"The harder I rock'n'roll the happier I am," Ms Dawborn said.

Part of the happiness was the newfound friends that came from dancing with different partners and "getting something different" from each of them.

"I'm at a place now where I'm happy," Ms Dawborn said.

"[Dance] has helped with my confidence, and in finding me again.

It's taken nearly five years but I'm there".

Beating social isolation with dance

If you are single, live alone and work from home, how do you make new friends?

For Matt Coleman, the answer was to take up dance.

"I hated exercise, and I knew that if I danced I'd meet some people and have some fun along the way," he said.

Seven years ago, the 41-year-old who works in organisational development, headed to Dance Cats Studio, the only dedicated same-sex dance studio in Australia.

Performing styles such as modern ballroom, Latin and new vogue, Mr Coleman said the combined mental focus and physical commitment required in a class was addictive.

"After a stressful day at work … it's great to come here," he said.

"You have to forget about everything else that's going on … you really have to concentrate on what you're doing."

Mr Coleman's dance partner, air traffic controller Phil Hong, 48, took up dancing in 2002 following his move to Melbourne.

The pair have danced together for about four years, and currently have their sights set on competing in the World OutGames in Miami this year.

According to Mr Hong the willingness to listen to each other makes for a good partnership.

"Each person brings something different… we have to feed off each other, and that connection is something that builds over time and with a lot of practice," Mr Hong said.

Dancing with a same-sex partner has also given them greater "fluidity".

"We've always left it open that at some point we could start sharing the lead as that's something some couples do," Mr Coleman said.

Rather than mimicking the dynamics of a heterosexual dance couple with "over the top kind of moves" seen in some competitive couples, the pair prefer to bring some "masculine elements" to their routine.

"We are just two men, who are friends, dancing together, and that is what we try and bring to our routine," Mr Coleman said.

Using dance to feel things

Inge Truckenbrodt always loved watching dance, but never danced herself — until about a year ago.

The 76-year-old took up dancing as a way to help with the symptoms of Parkinson's disease after being diagnosed three years ago.

"It seemed a nicer way than just doing physical jerks," she laughed.

The shake in her right arm, sleep disturbances and numbness in her right leg are just some of the symptoms of the debilitating disease.

"Like a sitting duck you sit back and wait for the next symptoms to occur," Ms Truckenbrodt said.

Not content to let the disease get the better of her, she made a decision to be proactive in her management of the disease, and from there life changed for the better.

"After a while I said, 'So what', and that was the turning point," Ms Truckenbrodt said.

At her doctor's suggestion she joined a weekly Dance for Parkinson's class in Melbourne and hasn't looked back.

The classes have improved her concentration, coordination and balance, and even helped her to feel sensations in her right arm again after it became immobile.

"It's more interesting than just doing exercises and you have the same benefits," Ms Truckenbrodt said.

With many of the dance moves adapted to be performed in a chair, the classes are a workout for the mind and body, with an emphasis on building mobility, balance, rhythm, and flexibility.

"I think I'm the worst dancer in the group and I've two left feet," she said.

"But it doesn't matter because we're all at different stages of Parkinson's … I'm just enjoying what we're doing."

An important part of the dance classes is the humour that comes with acceptance as she recalls one of the participant's "star" performance.

"We were doing a dance where you actually have to shake your hand, she was a star because she automatically shakes all the time," Ms Truckenbrodt laughed.

From tradie to 'twinkle toes'

Paul Scott is your typical Aussie bloke.

Growing up he raced go-karts, listened to hard rock bands like Led Zeppelin, and spent his weekends watching AFL footy and motor-racing.

Now a middle-aged man with a wife, three sons and a job working on building sites as a mechanical plumber, Mr Scott's life's took an unexpected turn three years ago when he swapped his steel-capped work boots for a pair of ballet slippers.

"I love AFL footy and I love going to the pub with my mates and having a beer," he said.

"And now I love ballet, probably more than all of them."

With no prior experience in dance, Mr Scott's attraction to the precise, intricate world of ballet came at the suggestion of a physiotherapist as a tool to help manage ongoing back problems.

Despite his initial fears at being the only male in his first dance class, and close to "bolting out the door", Mr Scott said he totally enjoyed it.

"It takes you out of your world and puts you in another place … you walk out just feeling amazing."

Each week, Paul takes two ballet classes at a dance studio in Mitcham, with the lessons beginning with a warm up at the barre and ending on a grand allegro.

"And it's all in French, so it's like learning another language," Mr Scott said.

Candidly open about his love for ballet with his family and close friends, the road to disclosure took a while, revealing it was easier to tell his wife about his newfound passion, than his teenage sons.

"They probably thought the old man's lost his mind," Mr Scott said of their initial reaction.

His youngest son still had a few things to say about his dad, the "ballerina".

"I get called twinkle toes and all sorts of things," Mr Scott laughed.

Surrounded by 200 men on a building site and asked what he did last night by a co-worker, Mr Scott could be relied upon to give an honest answer, albeit seemingly unbelievable.

"They laugh", he said when he admitted he went to ballet.

"They just don't believe you, so I leave it at that".

Three years in, Mr Scott doesn't care what anyone thinks.

Physically, he says his back pain has improved, and he sees a future for himself with ballet taking a starring role.

"This morning I was walking my dog and I had piano music going and I'm thinking, 'Life doesn't get any better than this','" Mr Scott said.