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Fitness

Meet the 55-pluses who are taking up ballet classes - and loving it!

"I'm 180cm, over 100kg and I'm 63," class member Rosemary Hepözden says. "I can't tell whether I'm the worst advertisement or the best advertisement for this! ...On the other hand, I can still get out there and do it."

By Amy Prebble
Fresh from ballet class, AnneMay Morris and Rosemary Hepözden are sitting companionably in the kitchen at the Auckland Academy of Adult Ballet.
The bench groans with baked goodies, courtesy of AnneMay, who got up early to whip up some treats, despite being in hospital with suspected appendicitis two days earlier.
"She's a miracle," says Rosemary (63) fondly.
The pair are members of the Silver Swans, a ballet class for dancers aged 55-plus.
Rosemary (left) and AnneMay say the class has been transformative.
Rosemary was instrumental in getting the class up and running. She decided to go to an adult dance class after reading an article about it in the local newspaper nearly three years ago.
At that point, she'd moved house, her mother had just died and her son Jacob (now 21) had been hospitalised.
"Everything in my life was so surreal," she recalls. "There didn't seem to be anything strange about taking up ballet aged 60 than anything else going on."
The writer and editor was in for a rude awakening, though.
"We got up to the barre and I got a bit of a shock because I'd forgotten that people in their twenties are adults. I was standing next to a tiny woman who came up to my waist. I was this great galumphing thing. Fortunately, when you're 60, you don't mind so much looking ridiculous."
She did, however, ask academy founder Kathleen Curwen-Walker if there was any chance of a class for more mature adults. Kathleen did some research and in 2017, the Silver Swans class started.
AnneMay (74) joined the group after seeing Rosemary being interviewed on TV about how much she loved being part of the Swans. "I thought, 'Yay, this is just what I need.' I phoned up the next day and came the day after."
The pair now dance together four times a week, having added tap and jazz dancing to their repertoire, and they're having a ball. They also meet up outside of classes to watch ballet movies and performances by the Royal New Zealand Ballet.
"It's just transformed my life," says AnneMay, who is a retired nurse.
"I worked without a break for 54 years – from age 14 to 69 – because I haven't got any children. I just love it."
Both women say their friends weren't particularly shocked that they were tackling something so unusual. After all, AnneMay had already picked up playing the harp at age 70, despite not being able to read music.
"A few people fell on the floor laughing," she admits. "But most of them said, 'Anne, we're not surprised.'"
Adds Rosemary, "My friends thought it was typical because I have a bit of a reputation for doing maverick things."
AnneMay has had three shoulder reconstructions, a hip reconstruction and two lower back compressions, and Rosemary has a fused ankle and arthritic knees, so they don't do pointe work or big jumps, and often practise their steps in the pool, where the water supports them.
"Look, I'm 180cm, over 100kg and I'm 63," Rosemary says. "I can't tell whether I'm the worst advertisement or the best advertisement for this! I do not look anything like a ballet dancer typically looks. On the other hand, I can still get out there and do it."
The thriving all-comers class has performed to thunderous applause and demands for encores.
AnneMay says that if anyone out there is interested in joining, they should just do it.
"I always say, don't worry, just dance! It is very good for older people. Remembering the sequence is very good for the brain."
Friends and family got a chance to see the progress the pair have made at a performance at the end of last year.
AnneMay's husband Tom (82) and Rosemary's son and ex-husband were in the audience to cheer them on.
"My ex-husband actually cried," tells Rosemary. "I asked my son, 'Why did he cry?' My son replied, 'He said it was because you're all so old and the song was really good.'"
"I was on an absolute high when I finished it!" says AnneMay. "We performed to thunderous applause and we had to do it again. The only encore of the day!"
Rosemary says, "The thing that keeps us going is just the joy. There's an absolute joy in it. I've never enjoyed going to the gym or anything like that. At the beginning, I wondered whether I could ever possibly do ballet. And now I think, 'How could I not?'"

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