Updated: Aug 28
When Karen Tipper left her job as a nurse and midwife earlier this year, she discovered just how much her job had helped her to keep fit and prevent weight gain. She realised she needed a way to bring physical activity back into her life, but didn’t want to go the gym, walk or bike ride. She wanted something that she was passionate about.
Karen had been an avid dancer until her late twenties. Now in her fifties, she wanted to go back to dance, but was afraid of ‘looking stupid’. She was worried she’d lost her dance fitness, and didn’t want to walk into a class of perfect dancers who would look at her and judge her for being uncoordinated.
Instead, Karen wanted somewhere she’d feel comfortable, with people would be her age, and where she’d be accepted whatever level she came in at. She had seen Dragonfly Dance (then called Move Through Life Dance Studio) on Facebook and decided to give it a go. She bought our Intro Special of unlimited classes for seven days, and jumped right in by booking into three classes held on Wednesdays.
On that first day, Karen was thrilled to discover a welcoming and warm community. Even though she suspects she looked a big like the robot from Lost in Space (her words), she found that nobody else there made her feel like that.
Karen chose to join Move Through Life and do the contemporary class because it helped her work up a sweat, built her dance fitness and gave her a challenge that stretched her, but was enjoyable.
Through Move Through Life dance classes, Karen has been able to return to dance. The weekly class helps her stay trim and healthy, and so much more. Dance class revitalises her, helps her focus, and keeps her memory sharp. She’s a happier person when she is dancing, and she’s also discovered a whole new community, in class and in the Move Through Life online community. She feels connected to other people, even though she doesn’t have the daily interactions she had when working full time.
Does Karen’s story sound anything like yours? Keep reading for her full story so you can decide if Dragonfly Dance could help you too.
Karen was quite active when she was working, but then when she stopped working, she realised something was missing.
“I was a midwife and registered nurse and my job came to an end this year. I had been running around doctors’ rooms fairly active, and really didn’t do any other physical activity. I’m not a gym girl. I was looking for something I would enjoy. I’ve always had dance in my life, but really didn’t want to go to a dancing school where there were young kids who would just blow my mind. I wanted somewhere were I’d feel comfortable, people would be my age, and I’d be accepted at whatever level I came in at.”
“I love the videos you put on Facebook and Instagram. They are really inspiring because you do them for people exactly like me. I look at these other people that are in ballet companies doing things that I can never achieve but I know that you are doing stuff for people at my level. We need people who can inspire us to do stuff today. So I love watching you.”
Dance classes changed Karen’s life
Karen’s history of dance is a beautiful story. Dance classes helped her overcome a potentially crippling condition, and introduced her to the love of her life.
“I have scoliosis and a deformed ribcage. When I was about two years old, I became very listless. I went from a happy bubbly little toddler suddenly not having the energy to walk from the front garden to the letterbox. She took me to the GP and he diagnosed it.”
“I had my back surgery when I was 11, and they fused my spine in two places, took out five ribs, fused one rib to my spine and put two Harrington Rods in. For six months I had a massive plaster cast that when from halfway up the back of my head and under chin and down my back to my butt. They watched me fairly closely from then on and he recommended that I start ballet. So I did classical ballet from age four until I was 14.”
”And I did ballroom dancing from the time I was nine. I met my husband at a ballroom dancing school when I was 11. So we have actually known each other almost forever. But we didn’t get married until I was 25, because I wanted to study and we were just good friends and dancing partners. I think that’s a really nice way to grow a relationship."
“The first day I met Graham was just after my back surgery. I’d been out of action at the dancing school for those six months and that was the year Graham arrived from England. I remember him approaching me on the first social evening. He asked me if I’d like to get up and dance, and it was the first dance after my back surgery. I was pretty scared. But I think we danced together for the rest of the night. We still dance together.”
“We saw each other three nights a week dancing. But when we got married, I hurt my back at work and was out of action for about four years. So ballroom dancing came to a grinding halt at that point. I only did rehab type activity, physio and massage and Feldenkrais, but not really anything that I would call keeping in shape, healthy type exercise. But then over the years things had improved and we got back to dancing after about a 20 year break. That was a long time to suddenly say we need to go back dancing again. All of our ballroom dancing teachers have passed away so we couldn’t go back to our old school, and finding a new school, the styles and way they teach has changed. We went to a few here and there but didn’t really find somewhere that we enjoyed going to at a weekly basis. We look out for social nights and have friends who are part of rock and roll clubs, so we go to a few rock and roll nights. So dance is still a part of our life but not to the extent it was. When I was a teenager I did ballet three nights a week until I was 14 and ballroom dancing three times a week until I hurt my back.”
Karen chose contemporary dance to rebuild her dance fitness
Karen tried out three different classes with Move Through Life, and settled with contemporary, because it would help her build up her dance fitness, and she just loved it.
“I did the mature class in the morning. It was lots of the fun and the girls in the class are the most beautiful group of ladies and made me feel so welcome. In the evening I went back for the contemporary class and a different group of girls equally nice and welcoming”
“I had never done contemporary. Ever. I was strictly classical ballet. I wasn’t sure how I would get on with contemporary but I really wanted to do the class. I absolutely loved it. I loved the freedom that contemporary gave me. I worked up a sweat. It was challenging but not too much. I did that for the first night and then stayed for the ballet class. I absolutely loved it. I reignited for me. I was really beautiful but I am not in any condition to go back to classical ballet yet. I really felt that I need to do contemporary for twelve months.”
Karen can’t afford NOT to dance
Like many women who dance, Karen finds that having a dance class scheduled each week forces her to take some time out of her everyday life to do something just for herself, which is essential for her well being.
“It was definitely the contemporary that was where I needed to be physically, and probably emotionally and psychologically too. Not read to go back to the discipline of the classical ballet at this point. I’m trying to do everything else. I’ve got a wonderful mum but she is 88 and has a bit of Alzheimer’s. She still lives on her own in a four bedroom house on a quarter acre block. Even if she didn’t have Alzheimer’s I’d still be there two days a week. But for me, my contemporary class is my time. It’s what I do to just step away from everything else I do and say this is my happy place.
Now that Karen has stopped her full time job, she and her husband Graham have a part time photography business (GT Studios). Fortunately, Karen’s husband is very supportive and encouraging about Karen dancing.
“I said to Graham that since I’d stopped working full time, maybe I can’t afford to do an exercise class. He said I don’t think you can afford not to. He was full on encouragement. When I came back from the third class he was sitting here waiting for me at home and asked how it was. I was just beaming. I was back in my happy place. He was really encouraging that I had to keep doing it because it was what I really wanted to do. I love it.”
“It certainly revitalises me. I think ‘yes! Now I’m ready for the rest of the week!”. I’ve had four weeks off from dancing and tonight is my first week back. Graham and I have been in Melbourne on some photoshoots. I am a bit sore and stiff in the mornings again, whereas all of that had gone. And just a bit sluggish. So my dance classes definitely help me physically and psychologically and emotionally. I’m a much happier person when I’m dancing.”
An unexpected bonus
Karen comes to dance class because she loves dancing and she wants to work on her dance fitness. But what she has discovered is wonderful new group of friends, which gives her the contact with other people that she misses now she has left her nursing job.
“The social network is a very important part of it for me. I’ve gone from being a very active midwife and nurse in a busy doctors’ rooms. I was always on the phone talking to people, so I just had people there all the time. And then not. So that once a week contact with a bunch of really nice ladies is lovely.”
“It goes beyond class because of the online members’ Facebook group. So it’s not just a once a week thing. There is this a fantastic feeling of community that’s there all the time. Although I haven’t met the other girls, I feel like I know them. I feel like I know a bit about them and belong to the community. We are busy doing what we do, I socialise within our work with clients, and family, but there’s not a lot of other, I don’t get a lot of other social outreach. We don’t go to the local pub, we don’t do that sort of socialising. So it’s absolutely awesome that I have this community through social media.
A regular class keeps Karen on her toes
Since finishing up as a nurse, Karen has more time to exercise, but she discovered that she needed something with a regular time that she loved doing.
“If I hadn’t gone back to dance class I think I would have gotten fat, or fatter. When I stopped working three days a week I had great intentions to walk every day. For the first months I did every day and then I stopped. It’s the regularity of knowing m class is booked and I’m going out.”
“If I hadn’t found this dance class, would I have taken on any other exercise? No, because dance is the thing I’m passionate about. I wouldn’t have gone to the gym or found something else. I have friends who run and bike ride and they try to get me to join them. I now try to get them to join me. A couple are just starting to ask questions now. I’ve got my mother in law who still does ballroom dancing, and she teaches tai chi and she was asking lots of questions about the dancing, also asking questions because I have a 22 year old niece who was asking about the classes that Aunty Karen does because she’s seen it on Facebook.”
Karen’s biggest fear about returning to dance
Like so many others, Karen was a little bit afraid of looking silly when she first to one of the dance classes at Move Through Life. She has discovered that dance fitness is about more than physical fitness. It helps with her memory, coordination, and balance as well.
“It had been a long, long time. I was so worried that I was going to walk in on a class of perfect dancers and they would all judge me. I don’t have the perfect figure any more, or the best coordination.”
“Another reason I really wanted to go back to dancing was to improve my balance. I had a fall in a shopping centre and I’d fallen down my stairs at home. I realised I need to do something about it. I was afraid I’d go back and have no balance and no coordination and I’d look like the robot from Lost in Space. Do you know what? I did look like that when I started. And I even said that to some of the girls with a couple of the exercises I was doing. Despite those fears, even though I did feel exactly like that, nobody else there made me feel like that.”
“I love chatting to the other girls before and after class. But as soon as the class starts, I don’t see anybody else. So it doesn’t matter how good or bad you are, or how good or bad anyone else is.”
“It took me six weeks before I could coordinate my arms and legs together. I was blown away by that because having had a background in dance and music and been so well coordinated in the past I was really shocked that it took me six weeks before I could get myself together again. So I had really lost it. And my memory. Another reason for wanting to dance is because of Mum’s Alzheimers. I don’t want this happening to me. When I started I couldn’t remember the routines. I’d need Billie to be standing in front doing the dance as well. It took about ten weeks to feel confident enough to stand in the front row and not watch Billie.”