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Ridgewood seniors dance with SPARC

Photo courtesy Hillary Ramos

Seniors at the Ridgewood Older Adult Center (ROAC) are getting a chance to bust a move thanks to the Seniors Partnering with Artists Citywide (SPARC) program.

SPARC is a community arts engagement program that places artists at senior centers across the five boroughs. The program was created as a collaboration of the city Department of Cultural Affairs, the Department for the Aging and five of the city’s local arts councils.

The SPARC aims to positively impact seniors’ quality of life through direct engagement in arts and cultural activities; to reinvigorate neighborhood senior centers, such as ROAC, as vital community spaces through arts and cultural programming; and to increase the opportunities for arts residencies and workspaces for artists.

ROAC’s executive director Jackie Eradiri applied to be a part of the SPARC program through the Queens Council on the Arts, and in February, the professional dancers and choreographers, Hillary Ramos and Henry Holmes, came to the center to bring the art of dance to the Ridgewood seniors.

“It’s something different,” Eradiri said of the program. “It is something that I don’t have at the center.”

Seniors can participate in the program, which runs through June and takes place at ROAC three times a week, or they are free to just sit back and watch.

“We are passionate about working with non-dancers and sharing that joy and empathy you get when you watch people dance and when you, yourself, are dancing,” Ramos said.

“There are plenty of hurdles of ‘I’m too old to dance’ or ‘I can’t do that,’” she added. “We are trying to break down the intimidation of dance for the seniors and show the health, psychological and social benefits of dance.”

Ramos explained how they use different forms of dance to engage all the seniors in the center. The more active seniors can get up and dance, while those who may not be able to move as well can participate in limited mobility and chair-based movements to get them involved.

“There are so many ways to get them to move,” Ramos said. “We are trying to show that dance is the merengue, the cha-cha and the waltz, but it is also sitting in a chair and moving your body with gestures and arm movements. That is also dance. Those things do matter.”

“We are using dance and making it applicable to their realities,” she continued. “We have hybrid classes depending on who we have, who is here and what they can do. We try to show that dance is social and artistic.”

Joe Renz, affectionately referred to as “rubber legs” by his dancing partners, is one of ROAC’s most loyal dancers and really enjoys the chance to get up and move around.

“I think [Ramos] is putting everything out there,” he said. “I’ve gotten something out of it. It has helped me fine-tune some things.”

Another ROAC dance participant, Barbara Kovacich, said she takes pleasure in the social aspect of the program.

“I just like to enjoy the company,” she said. “It brings me closer with the people at the center.”

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