BY JANIE ROSMAN
Since New City resident Mary Miele, 62, began kicking up her heels three years ago, she’s never felt better. “It’s like therapy for the body and soul,” Miele, said of her two-to-three-times a-week sessions at Fred Astaire Rockland County Dance Studio in Bardonia.
No matter what mood people bring into the dance studio, she guaranteed they’ll leave smiling. “It’s a great workout, and practice also develops muscle memory,” she said. “You have to think about the steps and how you’re moving to the music.”
Senior who regularly took part in ballroom dancing reduced their risk of developing dementia by 76 percent risk reduction in dementia, the highest reduction of any activity in the 20-year project, per the New England Journal of Medicine.
When the stress of medical studies prompted him to seek some relaxation, Victor Russu, then a student at Medical Univerity in Chisinau, Moldova, turned to dance. Eventually he entered competitions and began to use choreography on his patients to help those with scoliosis and arthritis.
Russu, a former general medicine practitioner and owner of the Bardonia studio since 2001, said his training helps him understand more how the body moves, its coordination, and how to assess a new dance student.
“Usually I try to ask students how they ask health wise,” he said. “I want to make people’s lives better so they became more confident and health wise, give them a chance to reach their (physical) potential.”
It’s important to introduce someone to dance in increments, he said, so they gain confidence in the moves and in their bodies. “The brain is actively learning routines and steps, which sharpens skills. As soon as you move, your blood flows. It’s like physical therapy.”
Ann Singer pays attention to news about dementia and makes it a priority to keep physically active and mentally stimulated in her senior years, “I wanted to ballroom dance for years,” the New City resident said, “and I signed up last January. Who knew it would become an addition? It’s amazing!”
Approaching 70 was no deterrent. “Where else can you go and get your hair done and wear costumes? It’s a whole new world.”
While it took her a while to get the basic steps, remembering those steps is “great for your mind. I have more overall confidence, my posture has improved, and my body and mind have, too.”
An estimated 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and 1 in 3 seniors die with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. AD is the most common — yet not the only — form of dementia in people 65 and older, according to Alzheimer’s Weekly, and accounts for between 50 and 70 percent of all dementias.
“I loved to dance when I was younger, and taught dancing after school for kids,” Miele said. The Yonkers native, who’s been kicking up her heels two to three times a week for the past three years, finds it invigorating.
Dancing helps her keep up with her four grandchildren (all under 5 years old). In fact, she’s got so much energy that she finds it difficult to stay home with the youngest, an infant, all day. “Spouses and family come to the competitions and showcase, and it’s a lot of fun!”
AARP reported people with AD can recall forgotten memories when they dance to music they used to know.
Miele remembers her parents seeming old at age 62 and doesn’t want to feel that way. Both she and her husband stay current with news about dementia and ways of reducing its risk, she said, and dancing is a great relaxer.
Leonard Birbrower, who will celebrate his 80th birthday next week, has been ballroom dancing for five years. The five-decade Nyack resident, an energetic trial attorney, visit the studio three times a week and said people have difficulty keeping up with him.
“I have back-to-back sessions, about 90 minutes combined, with breaks,” Birbrower said. Dancing gives “a tremendous satisfaction of achievement “no matter what level you dance at, no matter what dances you’re performing.”
In addition to getting the blood flowing, there’s an excitement to dancing “and what it does to you incorporates everything in your life,” he said. It “allows you to be creative, be part of a community and stay socially engaged, all things that have been referenced as important for seniors’ mental and emotional health.”
Note: On January 29, instructors will discuss dress, hair, makeup, and how to look better. The studio is located at 295 Route 304 in Bardonia. Hours are Monday to Friday, from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Saturday by appointment only. Call 845-623-7147 or visithttp://www.