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A group of senior tap dancers are about to sit their dance exams. Photo: ALICE PARMINTER

Toe-tapping fun for senior exercisers

It’s Wednesday morning, and the Cooperating Parish in Paeroa echoes with the sound of metal against the wooden floor. A group of women, the eldest in her late 80s, are clicking and stepping their way through a tap routine as others file in for a strength and balance class. 

This is Sheryl Krissansen’s domain, working with people to bolster their mobility. Up to 24 people, mainly seniors and people with mobility issues, attend the strength and balance class. Sheryl Krissansen, a former dancer, began eight years ago. 

“Just because I’ve gotten a little older myself, I thought why sit down and veg out?”

Beginning with a provided programme, she soon found it quite boring. 

“So when Covid struck I got stuck in and I revamped the whole programme,” she said. 

“I’ve tried to make it interesting enough that people don’t realise the exercises they’re doing. It’s just fun to them, they don’t realise that I’m actually making one side of the brain work and then the other side.”

Sheryl, an ACC-accredited teacher, said her goal was to help people flex their muscles and reduce their reliance on mobility aids when walking. 

“Maintain their mobility, this is my aim,” she said. 

“In giving them the confidence and strength in themselves.” 

Sheryl Krissansen, centre, leads the group through a series of exercises. Photo: ALICE PARMINTER

Sheryl also runs a tap class with six of the women; several others do ballet. 

The dance classes aren’t just for practice; they recently performed at a concert in Te Aroha, and they will also be sitting medal examinations on August 20. 

“This is a hell of an achievement, they’re as enthusiastic as anything,” Sheryl said. 

“They put their heart and soul into it, and okay, their movements are not perfection – but they’re doing what they can and I don’t see why I should knock them down for that.”

Tap student Katy Edmonds said the classes had done wonders for her balance after suffering a brain injury. 

“I was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome five years ago … I had to have a walking stick because it affects the central nervous system,” she said. 

“Since I’ve been coming here and doing ballet – I don’t need a stick any more.”

The classes are fun and engaging, and cater to all abilities. Photo: ALICE PARMINTER

Many of the other students have similar stories. Former singer Christine Daverne, who along with Sheryl runs K & D Performing Arts, has also found the classes helped her mobility. 

“I broke and dislocated my right ankle, it wasn’t repaired correctly … all my ligaments were out of alignment and my balance was really off,” she said. 

“Coming along to these classes, within about three, four months I was back to being able to [balance].”

Sheryl said she loves working with people, and takes delight in seeing their physical progress. 

“It’s brilliant. And the camaraderie that’s coming out of it is amazing,” she said. 

“Nobody feels threatened in this class because you don’t need to be – you just do what you can manage.”

Details: Strength and balance classes are held on Wednesday mornings, 9.15am at the Cooperating Parish in Paeroa. Classes cost $2. 

By ALICE PARMINTER, Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ on Air