The S.O.S. Crew to the Rescue
Imagine that you are sitting in your local coffee shop sipping on a cup of coffee when suddenly, your senses are set ablaze with music, color, and lots of movement. A boom box clicks on in the corner (it’s a 1975 boogie tune) and before you know it, there is a spontaneous choreographed dance party, or flash mob, happening all around you.
First, let me introduce you to Susie Vanderlip. As a dancer and teacher, she finds immense pleasure helping others find new ways to express themselves through movement. She has choreographed and danced through grief and loss, for a mission, for the USO, for herself, for teens, for joy, and now, for seniors. Vanderlip has a long history in dance—49 years to be precise—and for the past four years, she has been teaching Zumba Gold to students with ages ranging from 68 to 91 at a small gym in Irvine, California.
“We have all learned to enjoy being in our older bodies, despite our aches and pains, arthritis, herniated disks, hip replacements, etc. that exist in my dancers—and some in me!” says Vanderlip. “We’ve learned not to stop because something in our bodies or minds doesn’t work as well as it did when we were young. Instead, we laugh and try again or work around it.”
Many of Vanderlip’s students had never danced in a class before, and oppositional movement of arms and feet did not always come naturally. Although the ability to dance is not a requirement for her class, she instructs her students in mindfulness of body, which benefits balance, confidence, and ability. Shifting weight from one foot to another while in motion to Latin beats or quick-step country could be a challenge for anybody, but Vanderlip has been with it awhile and claims that once muscle memory kicks in and balance becomes strong, it’s all about the energy of once doubtful steps becoming confident. The benefits, however, are not just felt in the studio; with better balance, strength, and range of motion, dancers are substantially less susceptible to injury due to falls. And then there are the elevated energy levels, uplifted moods, and strong social connections that come not only within, but also from the S.O.S. Dance Crew.
Inspired by her students’ quick development and enthusiasm, Vanderlip decided to take the class out of the gym and into the world. They formed the S.O.S. (Seniors Over Sixty) Dance Crew, showed up at a local Starbucks, and wowed everyone with a high-spirited flash mob dance to KC and The Sunshine Band’s “That’s the Way I Like It.” Once the music began, the first set of dancers stood up quickly. All gathered in the middle of the space that had been inconspicuously cleared just moments before, then another group gathered, and another until the whole crew was assembled and in sync. A few baristas even joined in! The video was posted online and gained 150,000 views within the first three days.
They were so well received that Vanderlip said her students were hooked on performing for audiences, and they now take their routines to senior residences for “an hour of upbeat movement.” S.O.S. has performed numerous flash mobs around Orange County and even auditioned for the television show America’s Got Talent in 2015.
Vanderlip describes dancing as having fun with your body! “It doesn’t matter whether every step is right, even during performances. What is most important,” she says, “is expressing your joy.”
Myra Musgrove is an artist and writer who lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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