Discovering the fountain of youth: a nursing student, studying the leisure activities of older adults, becomes a convert to the social and health benefits of ballroom dancing.
Subject: Ballroom dancing (Health aspects)
Ballroom dancing (Social aspects)
Aged (Health aspects)
Aged (Social aspects)
Nursing students (Beliefs, opinions and attitudes)
Author: Haslemore, Adam
Pub Date: 10/01/2010
Publication: Name: Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand Publisher: New Zealand Nurses' Organisation Audience: Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Health care industry Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 New Zealand Nurses' Organisation ISSN: 1173-2032
Issue: Date: Oct, 2010 Source Volume: 16 Source Issue: 9
Topic: Event Code: 290 Public affairs
Geographic: Geographic Scope: New Zealand Geographic Code: 8NEWZ New Zealand
Accession Number: 241179368
Full Text: Dancing in its many and various manifestations is a cultural and social activity common to art cultures, and has been around for millenia. However, it was not until half way through my first year as a nursing student at Otago Polytechnic that I discovered a form of this pastime that has been last to our younger generations--social ballroom dancing. It is a popular activity among people aged 60 to 90 and, if my recent experiences are anything to go by, those involved all appear to be full of mental physical and social vigour.

During our first year and as part of the requirements of our primary health paper, students are required to visit an older adult in the community for a few hours. I had the pleasure of meeting Bob and Eunice Sammes. This couple didn't appear to be much over 60 to me and I was taken aback when they told me they were approaching their mid-70s.

Bob and Eunice invited me and some nursing students to the South Dunedin Dance Club. This dub arranges public social ballroom dancing with a live band and modern/old-time and sequence dancing. Although attending this dance night was not part of our course requirements, we were curious to see how another age demographic in our society spent their Thursday evenings.

Not long after arriving at the dance hall, I was introduced to Cathy Eaton, an 89-year-old woman who seemed to be stilt filled with the fountain of youth. While she was sitting out that night due to sciatica in her leg, she came along for the social contact. Her polite demeanor and enthusiasm for life in general revealed a new dimension of the aging process to me. Despite her current setback, she promised me a dance the following week, a promise accompanied by a peat of laughter. By coming along to the dance club that night, it was clear Joan was stilt achieving the state of "love and belonging" on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs model. (1) In the absence of these elements of love and belonging, many people become susceptible to loneliness, social anxiety and clinical depression. (2) This is so often evident in our aged-care facilities, with many patients on antidepressant medication for these reasons. (3)


The over 60s people dancing that night reminded me of the 1985 Ran Howard film Cocoon. In this film, a group of elderly people are rejuvenated by aliens and become youthful again. Although I felt like an alien myself at times that evening, evidence of this fountain of youth was everywhere--in the people's smites, liveliness, and their welcoming accommodation of the nursing students. Art this seemed such a contrast to many of today's youth, who are often portrayed as, or proven to be, couch-bound, pessimist "emos" (4)--hardly a picture of youthful vigour.

Despite being pretty fit, I found myself working up a sweat, most likely due to the mental exertion of learning the different dances, steps, turns and partner changes. I felt I did pretty well for someone with two left feet. I did get reprimanded at one stage when I stood backwards on to another man's foot, but my partner was wise and waltzed me off to safety, telling me to "ignore that man" I actually found it rather amusing and being a part of these social dynamics only added to my enjoyment.

Once I had returned home and reflected back on my night out dancing with "the oldies", I realised this had been one of my most enjoyable nights out in years. No alcohol was involved, I had met some great new people, had had plenty of exercise, had wasted no money and simply had a fun time--the perfect night!

I have since returned several times and have gathered a following of other Otago Polytechnic nursing students. The South Dunedin Dance Club now seems to be the place to be on a Thursday night, historically the big night out for students. My two left feet have also evolved into what one might cart a reasonable set of twinkle toes. Being more active has stimulated my body to want more exercise and the polytechnic gym has come in useful in this regard. I feel happier and more motivated, quite possibly due to the extra endorphins being released into my system!

Faced with high youth suicide rates, rising obesity and type 2 diabetes figures, (5) perhaps we all need to dance a step backwards and take a look at the pastimes of our less technologically reliant society of half a century ago. In doing so, perhaps we, too, can bathe in this fountain of youth.


(1) Maslow, A. H. (1943) A Theory of Human Motivation, Psychological Review; 50:4, 370-96.

(2) Dempsy, J., French, J., Hillege, S. & Wilson, V. (200g) Fundamentals of Nursing and Midwifery: A Person Centred Approach To Care. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins Pty Ltd: Broadway, NSW, Australia.

(3) Fernando, M., Kairuz, T. & Zotezzi, M. (2005) Clinical considerations of antidepressant prescribing for older patients. Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association; 118: 1222.

(4) Maloney, T. (2004) Isolating the Scarring Effects Associated with the Economic Inactivity of Youth in New Zealand: Evidence from the Christchurch Health and Development Study. IsolatingScarringEffects.pdf. Retrieved 10/08/2010.

(5) Ministry of Social Development. (2009) The Social Report. Retrieved 10/08/2010.

Adam Haslemore is a first-year nursing student at Otago Polytechnic.
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