By Patricia Maresch, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Hearts melt and audiences roar when they hit the stage: a group of senior citizens dancing hip-hop. The group from Niterói, called Grupo Arte de Dançar (The Art of Dancing), drove the public wild during a recent performance at a dance festival at the Grajaú Jockey Club. “They are amazing, I’ve never seen anything like this in my life!,” said a wildly enthusiastic audience member.
“The program mentioned a senior citizen hip-hop group and I thought: ‘This might get embarrassing.’ But their energy and what they are able to do at their age is awesome!”
Luciano Motta, the 41 year-old dancing coach of Arte de Dançar explains: “Our participation at the festival in Grajaú was very special. The audience kept screaming for more and we won a prize which qualified us to enter another, national, dance festival. I couldn’t be prouder of this group.”
The group’s youngest member is 58 year-old Sueli. “I’m a rookie. Our oldest dancer is 87 years old and boy, does she know how to shake her hips! The only male dancer in our group is 78 and he can still do a back spin.”
There are some thirty dancers, all of them retired and feeling much happier and healthier ever since they joined Motta’s group. They come together three to five times a week and are called regularly to perform at events and festivals in Niterói and Rio de Janeiro.
Motta was asked to work with the group of seniors by Dona Jackson. “I saw him teach young kids so I asked him to start dancing with me and some of my elderly friends. We wanted to stay healthy and not just sit at home waiting for visits from our children and grandchildren,” Dona Jackson.
According to Motta, dancing hip-hop holds no age barrier. “My dancers compensate in courage and positive energy what they lack in physical abilities.”
Sueli confirms that dancing hip-hop has enriched her life in many ways: “I used to have problems keeping my balance, not anymore. But, what’s more important is that dancing has given all of us a new sense of self-esteem.”
Medical studies confirm that dancing is one of the best activities to help alleviate the effects of aging. It strengthens mobility, the elasticity of joints and muscles and improves circulation in the cardiovascular system. In addition – because it is a group activity – integration and new friendships help elderly people overcome physical limits and reduce stress in their daily life.
While Rio is better known for its baile funk then a strong hip-hop music scene, it is alive and well. Motta himself learned to dance in the favela where he grew up in Niterói: “I formed my first street dance group when I was seven years old.” Since there were no social projects for young dancers in his community, Motta never had the chance to study dance.
“Unfortunately I took a wrong path in life, but I managed to get my act together and now I dedicate most of my time teaching dance to this group of senior citizens. I don’t get paid, but what I receive in fun, love and laughter from them makes up for everything.”