‘Creatively Ageing – From New Zealand to Scotland’ was an inspiring event run by Age Scotland and Luminate (18th September at the Methodist Church Hall, Edinburgh). Director of the Hip Op-eration Dance Academy in New Zealand, Billie Jordan, spoke about and showed images of her work with a dance group of senior citizens. The Hip Op-eration Crew is recognized by the Guiness Book of Records as the oldest dance group in the world, its members ranging in age from 73 – 97.
One member is legally blind and partially deaf, one member uses a mobility aid, one member is profoundly deaf, two members have had major heart surgery, one member has kidney disease, many have artificial knees and hips, there is a married couple in the group (aged 84 and 86 years old) and all members have arthritis.
They are all neighbours and live on a small island off the East coast of Auckland, New Zealand in the South Pacific (Waiheke Island).
The group is managed by 48 year old Billie Jordan who founded the group after being injured in New Zealand's worst natural disaster - the Christchurch Earthquake on 22nd February 2011. She is also the group's choreographer, dance teacher, publicist, marketer, event manager, transporter and friend. All her time is voluntary.
The dance crew use hip hop dance as a vehicle to promote attitudinal change in our society towards aged persons and also to form stronger connections with young people.
Instead of seeing age as a deterioration of the life we once knew, Billie said, we could regard it as a stage that could be the best time of our lives. When she recruited the members of the dance group, nobody else in their lives had any expectations of them. They were demoralised and depressed. ‘In 8 months time you’re going to perform in the World Hip-Hop Dance Championships in Las Vegas,’ she told them. People criticised her, saying she was setting them up for failure and she should let them die in peace. Billie’s response was that dying on the dance floor was a great way to go!
The group began talking about the future. Instead of seeing their happiest years as being behind them, they saw that they might be ahead of them. Billie demanded high standards of performance and let them know that she had high expectations of them. And they responded to this. ‘You wouldn’t tell a professional athlete not to worry if they didn’t win as long as they got out of the house and got some exercise.’ Mental and physical health improved, as did mobility and balance; and the time it took to recover from injuries was markedly reduced.
‘Too often retirement villages are about safety, not stimulation – places where you retire from life. I am keen to show old people as energetic, tough and strong.’ The Hip Op-eration Crew have certainly demonstrated this.