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In Maryland, Senior Living Facility Residents Are Dancing Again Thanks to Visits From Volunteer Ballet Troupe

Art has the magical power to heal, and sharing your art with others can brighten their lives immeasurably. Inspired by her own mother’s love of ballet, Renée Meyer created a mobile dance troupe to bring the joy of dance to senior citizens, both those in nursing homes and those who are homebound. As a result, she’s raising spirits and improving the physical and mental well-being of hundreds of women and men.

An Idea Inspired By Family

Renée Meyer beamed as she watched her ballet students pirouette across the stage — memories of her own dance recitals filling her heart, as her mother, Natasha, smiled proudly from the audience. Ballet was a passion they had shared.

Renée was only three years old when she started taking ballet, and at 17, she went to New York City to study at the elite Joffrey Ballet School. Sadly, a knee injury ended Renée’s professional career, so she returned home to Maryland, where she went to work for the Department of Defense. She filled her spare time as a part-time choreographer and dance instructor and attended professional performances with her mom.

In time, her mom became homebound with myasthenia gravis, a skeletal muscle disorder, and could no longer attend the ballet. If only the ballet could come to her, Renée would muse.

That thought took root in Renée’s mind and heart in 2010, when she was about to retire. “There are so many isolated souls who could use a bit of sunshine in their lives,” said Renée, sharing her dream with her sister, Liz.

“I wish I could bring the joy of ballet into their lives.”

“You need to follow that dream!” Liz insisted. “If not now, when?”

“She’s right,” Renée thought and gathered her adult dance students. “I have this crazy idea…” she began.

The Gift of Dance

The dancers listened intently as Renée explained that she wanted to start a mobile ballet troupe that would go to senior care facilities and dance for the residents.

“Let’s do it!” they all exclaimed.

And Renée got the same enthusiastic response when she contacted a local senior care facility.

“We’d love to have you,” the Pickersgill Retirement Community Center’s activities director said, and a few days later, Renée and a few of her students hauled a portable dance floor and music player into the facility’s community room and danced before a rapt audience.

“When can you come back?” the residents asked.

Word spread, and other senior centers began inviting the Ballet Mobile troupe to their facilities. And the dancers did more than just perform. They stayed for hours, spending quality time with the residents.

“They all love you,” Gayle Newman, Weinberg Village Activities Director, told Renée. And watching them sway in their seats and wheelchairs, she asked Renée, “Could you give the seniors dance lessons?”

Renée had been inspired by her audience’s participation too. Upon arrival, she gave each person a handmade silk flower, and as the music rose, everyone would start waving them in the air and tapping their feet.

“This program is even more than I had hoped,” Renée thought happily.

Boosting Spirits and Health

When Gayle put out a flyer announcing “Memories through Motion,” a dozen residents rushed to sign up. Shirley Rollins, 80, loved to dance when she was younger. “But then life got in the way, and it’s been 20 years since I’ve danced,” she says.

“Now I dance every day and listen to Renée’s music when I do physical therapy for a shoulder injury.”

Bobi Master, 87, also uses physical therapy while she is recovering from knee replacement surgery.

“When I dance, I always go full force, and I picture myself as the prima ballerina,” she says, beaming.

Six foot and 300 pounds, 83-year-old Lester Poris insists that since joining Renée’s class, his balance has improved, and memorizing dance steps helps his memory.

Thrilled to be able to bring joy and healing, Renée and Ballet Mobile host weekly classes at Weinberg Village, and over the past 12 years, they’ve performed hundreds of times at various Maryland senior care facilities. They also do private living room home performances for shut-ins and patients in hospice.

“Our audiences couldn’t be any more appreciative,” says Renée. “Neither could we. We get as much enjoyment from performing for the seniors as any of our other audiences. And I know my mother has a front-row seat in Heaven, dancing along at every performance.”

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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