Whether you are an aspiring ballerina or you just want to witness lifelong dancers who can prove that dancing is not just for the young, visiting the National Museum of Dance’s School of the Arts (SOA) is inspirational. Most dance studios cater to young dancers from ages three to eighteen. SOA, in addition to enrolling these traditional students, has an ensemble of students in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and now 90s! Adult classes range from ballet, jazz, modern, belly dance, Irish step, zumba and booty barre. There is quite literally, something for everyone.
Dancing with us since the spring, we are proud to highlight our eldest dancer, Ardith Campbell. With grace and poise, Ardith floats through the Open Beginner Ballet class on Thursday mornings, defying any stereotypes about women in their 90s. Born in June 1922, Ardith has been dancing for most of her life – “On and off for forever it seems.” She started dancing ballet at a young age, but spend most of her life participating in social and ballroom dances. After her husband and dance partner of seventy-seven years passed away, Ardith moved to Saratoga Springs to be closer to her daughter. While others may give up on more than just dancing after losing their life partner, this amazing woman started her life anew. She signed up for an assortment of classes, giving her the opportunity to meet new people and acquire new skills. “Giving up – that’s the worst thing that can happen to you,” Ardith states matter-of-factly when we talk about people her age. Her philosophy on life is, “You just have to keep doing things. Push yourself, even when you don’t feel like doing it.”
After pursuing a lifetime of dance and exercise, Ardith enjoys coming to ballet class. “Dance makes you want to move!” She has been so inspired by the dancing that she reads books each night from the Saratoga library about ballet. Reading books about ballet gives her the perfect complement to what she is learning in her ballet class at SOA. With a spark and rigor for learning and living life, she remains sharp and youthful. When asked about her favorite part of class, she doesn’t single out one thing, but makes it clear that she just loves dancing, moving, learning all the steps, and especially getting better at them. Most ninety-one year olds are lucky to be able to walk let alone do a few steps! However, Ardith goes above and beyond, with a desire to not only master the steps but also improve upon her achievements.
Thanks to all of her years of dancing, Ardith does not find the class too difficult. However, the jumps in the center floor are particularly tiring and she finds her age catches up with her by the end of the class. Fighting the urge to sit down, she continues to gracefully move across the floor at her own pace. There is such an atmosphere of support amongst the ladies in the class. It’s clear she sets a wonderful example for everyone. You cannot help but to admire and applaud her performance!
Recent studies have shown the health benefits of dance on aging are both physical, and cognitive. Not only are you exercising your body, you’re exercising your brain, boosting both memory and intelligence. Dancing increases neural connectivity, integrating kinesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional brain functions all at once. A life-long dancer, Ardith demonstrates, how mental willpower can defy the years. “I will dance and do everything as long as I can. Dance keeps you going. You walk and talk and dance.”
by Sarah Detwiler