Around 3 p.m. Wednesday at St. Anne in Winona, residents began to roll in to the activity studio with their walkers, wheelchairs, and canes.
Jennifer Taber O’Neill, a dance instructor from the Minnesota Conservatory of the Arts, set up her laptop and speaker, getting ready to conduct her chair-based dance class for the residents looking to get a dose of physical activity for the day.
O’Neill began with warm-up exercises to the tunes of “Somewhere Beyond the Sea” by Frank Sinatra and the James Bond theme music. From there, it was on to the dance she’d been teaching the residents to the song “One” by A Chorus Line.
Feet tapped, arms swung, and smiles and laughter filled the room.
Jamie Schwaba, managing director at the MCA, came up with the idea as part of the conservatory’s work to build to bring new community collaborations. Schwaba, along with O’Neill, and Esther Hill, who works with the residents at St. Anne’s, coordinated to organize the chair-based dance class to provide a different form a physical activity for the residents.
O’Neill said she made the class chair-based, because many of the residents who participate aren’t very mobile, but still desires ways to get their bodies moving, even while seated.
“For us, to partner with (St. Anne’s) was a great opportunity,” O’Neill said, “It’s a good, fun way to keep the residents active.”
To heighten the interest and make the class more than just another exercise class, O’Neill incorporated using a top hat as a prop.
“It just makes it more fun,” O’Neill said, “I like to use a prop of some sort to help with tactile engagement.”
The residents say they enjoy the dance class, and many had smiles on their faces that didn’t dwindle once during the 30-minute session.
Resident Gladys Carlisle said she does similar activities all the time at her home.
“I walk two miles every day,” Carlisle said, adding, “This is the first time I came to the class and I had a lot of fun.”
O’Neill said she was delighted by the enthusiasm Carlisle showed throughout the class.
“It’s nice to know you’re doing something for your community,” O’Neill said. “They’ve done so much for us, and it’s nice to be able to do something for them in return.”
Fern Girtler, also a resident at St. Anne’s, has participated in every class. She was a few minutes late Wednesday, but didn’t have anything to worry about — there was a chair saved for her toward the front.
“It’s kind of like our exercise class,” Girtler said. “It makes us move and loosens up the joints.
“I really enjoy it,” she added.
Moving forward, Schwaba said, the conservatory hopes to not only continue the classes at St. Anne’s, but to branch out to other health service organizations.
“it’s just a neat way for (the MCA) to offer what we do to the community,” she said.
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