Can ballet for seniors improve mental health?

We all know eating right and exercising are key to staying healthy. But can flexing our creative muscles help us thrive as we age?

Research from the National Institute on Aging suggests participating in the arts may improve not only our physical well-being but our mental health, as well. And now, one woman is getting the elderly off their recliners and into ballet class.

Fran Hu and her friends are busy learning points and plies in a ballet class made just for them.

“I’m the first in my family to reach 90,” Hu said.

Vanessa Woods, the Vitality in Motion owner and founder, a classically trained professional ballerina, wanted seniors to experience the way dancing made her feel physically and emotionally.

“It’s not jolting movement. It’s smooth and sustained and graceful,” Woods said. “The benefits of it are for everyone.”

With the help of physical and occupational therapists, Woods created Vitality in Motion. Whether done standing or sitting, at a bar or in the water, students here say they notice a difference.


“It’s an art to start with and generally speaking, true ballet has good music,” said Martha, who is 82 years old.

Lavern, 81, adds, “This is just a way to keep the body in shape.”

Mary Elizabeth, also 81, said, “It’s different, than the typical exercise, but it does make it interesting.”

Studies show older adults who participate in dance experience improvements in balance and memory.

An NIH study links dance with improving cognitive function.

Woods says said can benefit from the ballet basics.

“Find a time in your day to do some movement, even if it’s just extending your foot out into the air or your wrist, and just gently moving some just gentle range of motion movements are so beneficial,” Woods said.

Woods wants everyone to realize, it’s never too late to learn and to love to dance.

The physical benefits of dance on aging bodies are well-established but a study out of Massachusetts General in Boston found the joy and social connections formed in a weekly dance class improve energy and mental outlook. Ten years after Vitality in Motion began, it now hosts about 300 classes per month. The oldest student is 107 years old. You can join virtual classes by logging on to

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