Senior dancers bring joy to care home occupants
It’s 9 a.m., and I’ve just arrived for a rehearsal at the Through the Eyes of a Child studio in Yerington. The Steel Magnolias and I will give two performances today; 10:30 a.m. at the Mason Valley Residence, and 11:30 a.m. at South Lyon Long Term Care.
The Steel Magnolias range in age from 60 years, to infinity. Every Wednesday morning we meet to dance, stretch and reverse the aging process. Skeptics are unwelcome. Today, there’s an undercurrent of apprehension and foreboding, as the ladies put on their dancing shoes. Appearing before an audience is exhilarating, but also daunting.
I can’t help but notice that a fortune has been spent at the hair dressers. Also, their make up is precise, and generous. Mary remarks, “When I saw the dances you wanted us to do, I said we can never do that, but here we are doing them.” Mary knows everyone in Yerington. She works at Rexall Drug.
Penny, the perky activities director at Mason Valley Residence, escorts us into a meeting room. Melinda is already there, with Hope, her yellow lab. She will play the ukulele and sing Christmas songs. Hope was trained as a seeing eye dog, but decided on a career change.
Residents trudge in, some in wheelchairs, others on walkers. Golden throated Jeff Feyma announces, “Direct from their world tour, Ron Walker, and the Steel Magnolias.” A brassy Vegas tune brings us on. We line up, arms flaying the air, hips gyrating and torsos twisting. Long Term Care audiences are not known for their revelry, so it’s best to establish an early beachhead. Buffoonery and tomfoolery are encouraged; propriety frowned upon.
Dance number follows dance number. The audience warms up. Only one member of the audience is dozing. Melinda and Hope capture their hearts. We’re invited to come back anytime, and off we scamper to South Lyon Long Term Care.
We get set up in the cheery, yellow dining room. A wide area has been cleared for us to perform. Nurses and attendants usher in the residents; some in wheelchairs, other totter along on the arm of an attendant. Some are on gurneys.
I make a few remarks about how important it is for dancers to warm up, then move to front the group, the dancers following my movements. A Perry Como number establishes a connection to the past. A glimmer of happiness, albeit tiny, appears on many of the patients, faces as they watch us dance and have a good time. However, a few faces are still void of any expression.
Next, Laine fronts the Steel Magnolias and a rousing version of “Jingle Bells” by the Chipmunks booms forth. Melinda follows this by delighting everyone with a Hawaiian Christmas song she’s written. I notice one gentleman, lying prone on a gurney, unmoving. As she sings “Santa Clause is Coming to Town,” his lips start to move, as some long, forgotten, remembrance comes to mind.
To lighten the mood, I announce, “You won’t believe it, but a few of the Steel Magnolias are over 55.” After a long pause, Chris shouts , “Yeah, around the waist.”
Their big dance number is next; Dean Martin’s “A Kick in the Head.” “This is a number we have been working on for 27 years,” I proclaim. Pretty and petite Marilyn, steps to the front of the group. All goes well. Even Yvonne, self-proclaimed grumbler of the group, suddenly dances like a possessed nymph. The nurses are beaming. A restrained carnival atmosphere settles over the room.
Closing the show, I say, “Christmas is a time of love, and I want all of you to know that we love you and thanks for letting us perform for you.”
As we make our exit, I realize the despair we met when we arrived is gone. “I was watching one of the patients who never, never responds to anything. She was smiling,” the nurse says.
Now it’s our turn to celebrate. The Steel Magnolias invite Jeff and me to lunch. Their treat.
Ron Walker lives in Smith Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.