Singapore grannies take up ballet to stay healthy

Clad in a black short-sleeved leotard, matching leggings and light pink ballet flats, Lee Poh Ying warms up in the glass-walled studio with fellow dance students.

But Lee and a few of the other weekend ballerinas are not your typical pre-teen ballet students stretching their backs and kicking up their legs to prepare for their group lessons.

She is a 62-year-old grandmother with her hair bundled up in a hairnet, one of a growing number of older people in Singapore trying to stay fit and active in a fast-greying society with an average life expectancy of 81.4 years.

Ballet was Lee's childhood dream, but it took her decades before she finally had the time and freedom to pursue it.

"My mother did not allow me to learn ballet, saying I should focus on my studies, and that dance was not a well-paying job," she said.

"I could only admire the girls in my school dance, and then secretly try the moves in my room."

Now the former supervisor at an electronics factory, who retired in 2002, dances with other adult students every Sunday morning at a community centre near her suburban apartment.

"I like ballet a lot. It makes me very happy. I will continue dancing until I cannot dance," she told AFP.

Singapore, like other affluent Asian societies such as Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, is grappling with an ageing population because of falling birth rates and longer lifespans.

By 2030, 20 percent of Singaporeans are forecast to be 65 years or older, according to official statistics.

The government has been encouraging senior citizens to lead healthy lifestyles, and elderly Singaporeans are taking it upon themselves to explore various forms of exercise including dance.

Amy Tan, executive director of Women's Initiative for Ageing Successfully (WINGS), a non-profit education centre for mature women, finds the trend beneficial.

"Physical activities for elderly women require their mind and body to participate together, which is wonderful for their mental and physical wellness," said Tan.

However, learning ballet is not easy for mature women, some of whom have to struggle with medical conditions, injuries - and fear of failure.

Jacqueline Chow, 53, who has studied ballet at a community centre since 2008, finds it hard to execute some ballet steps because of her spinal, knee and foot problems.

To help her out, her ballet teacher alters the exercises.

"As I have stiff joints in my leg, I cannot do a grand plie, which is the bending movement of both knees," she said. "So I only do a plie within my own limits."

She once swung too hard and fell down while doing a pirouette, the classic ballet move of turning on one foot.

"It was very painful, but I learned from it. Now I know that I cannot shift my body too hard when I do a pirouette," said the university employee.

After three years of ballet, Chow says her back is stronger and her body more flexible.

Yu Shuhuai, 55, a China-born dance instructor who has been teaching ballet at several government-funded community centres in Singapore for eight years, enjoys working with mature women because of their attitude.

"Once when I came to class early, I saw the dancers reading their notes and revising the dance steps," Yu said. "I was so touched."

Their age does show occasionally, and not only in their restricted movements.

"Once a dancer wore hard shoes on top of her ballet flats, and then went around looking for her ballet flats," he said.

In 2003, a group of elderly women approached him and asked if he could help them fulfill their dream of learning ballet. He agreed and started classes with six students.

Now he has more than 40.

To cater to this group, Yu did some research on their body structure and physical condition before devising dance moves that allow them to understand the characteristics of ballet, yet do not harm them.

"Ballet, unlike other dances, exudes grace. It helps their bodies become more youthful," he said.

"Other than giving them an opportunity to make friends, it prevents and postpones their illnesses, and helps them stay happy and confident too."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java,Artificial Intelligence)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Front-Of...

    C++ Quant Developer

    £700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

    Java/Calypso Developer

    £700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

    SQL Developer

    £500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

    Day In a Page

    Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
    Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

    Stolen youth

    Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
    Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

    Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

    He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
    Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

    Made by Versace, designed by her children

    Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
    Anyone for pulled chicken?

    Pulling chicks

    Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
    9 best steam generator irons

    9 best steam generator irons

    To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
    England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

    Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

    New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
    ‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

    ‘We knew he was something special’

    Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York