TORONTO — With a passion for dance, 93-year-old Marion Green lights up the Joseph E. and Minnie Wagman Centre at Baycrest with enviable grace and sunny joie de vivre.
Green was a former chorus girl in the late 1930s through the 1940s at the Casino Theatre on Queen Street in Toronto.
“I never had a dance lesson – ever. I just had natural rhythm and when I heard the music, I used to make up my own little steps. My parents used to say I had shpilkes,” laughed Green.
“Step shuffle, step left, kick right,” recalls Green, who told The CJN, “I was 17-years-old when I began to dance professionally. I would write everything down so I would remember and practice. At the time there were no Jewish girls dancing in a theatre. In fact, it was burlesque for the first year I was there. Every week we would learn three new routines. I did four shows a day. On Saturday and Sunday, there were five shows and during the war years, a midnight show. Once you hear applause, you’re always coming back for more, and I loved it.”
Andreah Barker, a dance and movement therapist at Baycrest, first met Green about two years ago.
“Marion thought I was going to teach her, but actually I wanted her to lead me and share her experiences and knowledge by choreographing something with me,” Barker said.
With classes once a week for 45 minutes, Green choreographs and teaches Barker the moves right down to designing the costumes.
“We are dancing together, and it is a mutually fun thing for both of us. The creativity of being able to express oneself through movements in ways we can’t with words is part of my dance movement therapy,” said Barker.
Marion and her dance/movement therapist Andreah Barker perform their dance routine Ballin' the Jack. [Susan Minuk video]
Forty-three years ago, Green volunteered to assist seniors at Baycrest with a program called Arthur Murray’s Dance Class.
“We would gather the seniors and dance to music from the old country. Even if they couldn’t dance, and were in wheelchairs, we would hold their hands and dance in front of them,” Green recalled.
Experts say that dancing improves gait and balance, and can decrease the risk of falling. It also encourages seniors to move in different directions from everyday movements, and it helps improve overall balance, stamina and walking speed, which are major risk factors in falling.
“Any type of dancing where people are improvising is good for the brain, as it involves making split-second decisions,” said Barker.
“The more you do, the more you can do. I have had a hip replacement and I have a bad knee, but when the music comes on, I forget my name. There is no stopping me,” said Green.
For her sister’s 100th birthday party last March, Green danced the Charleston and hopes to do it again for her 101st.
“It is important to learn from the older generations, and to take what they know, and bring it into our work. Our most recent routine, Ballin’ the Jack, was choreographed completely by Marion Green and will be performed to the seniors at Baycrest’s Wagman Centre,” Barker said.