ADHD · aging · Dancing · fitness

Team Hennebury & the ‘Ageless Grace’ Class

Ages ago, I wrote about how much fun I had being gloriously awful at a Nia dance class with my friend Elaine.

I’ve done Nia lots of times since and I’m still a pretty goofy dancer but I have a grand time thanks to the atmosphere that Elaine creates.

Since I trust Elaine to ease me into new things to be gloriously awful at, last week, I checked out her drop-in class for a program called Ageless Grace.

image description: a black and white photo of Elaine and a group of seated seniors with their arms stretched out to their sides.
I was so caught up in our class that I forgot to take photos but here’s Elaine leading a different group at an indoor class. image description: a black and white photo of Elaine and a group of seated seniors with their arms stretched out to their sides.

I had no idea how hard it is to draw a circle with your left pinkie while drawing a triangle with your right big toe.

And how relaxing it is to pretend to be pulling taffy, in all directions, in time to some music.

And I wasn’t alone in this fun. My Mom, my sister Denise, and 27 other people joined Elaine and grinned, laughed, and sang our way through a series of exercises designed to encourage neuroplasticity and fitness.

And while I can’t exactly judge if it did those things for us, I can definitely tell you that it encouraged fun.

The target demographic for the class is seniors but it’s useful for anyone who is interested in challenging their brain. (My almost-48-year-old-ADHD-brain loved it.)*

All of the exercises are designed to be done in a chair so the participants can focus on the movements instead of worrying about falls.

Denise and I stood for the whole thing because we both have body quirks that are exacerbated by sitting. It was tricky but trying to keep our balance while doing dexterity/mind-body exercises meant we got to laugh at ourselves a little more than everyone else. (Pretty sure our Mom got in an extra snicker or two at our expense, too.)

Image description: A ‘selfie’ style photo of Christine, Denise, and Carol-ann (a.k.a. Mom.)  They are all wearing sunglasses, Denise and Carol-ann are smiling and Christine is smirking.
Here we are after the class, I really meant to smile but I missed! Image description: A ‘selfie’ style photo of Christine, Denise, and Carol-ann (a.k.a. Mom) on a sunny day. They are all wearing sunglasses, Denise and Carol-ann are smiling and Christine is smirking.

So, the long and the short of it, is that I am just as gloriously awful at the Ageless Grace exercises as I am at Nia dancing. And I had just as much fun making mistakes**the whole time.

And as a bonus, that pretend-taffy exercise loosened up some of the muscles in my upper back that plague me and I’ve been doing it a few times a day ever since.

PS – Just so you know, I have another sister but Angela couldn’t make it to the class!

*In fact, Elaine and I will be experimenting to see if my ADHD brain likes certain exercises more than others. More on that later!

* *Don’t worry, Elaine, I know that the mistakes are the point and that it’s the effort that counts. You know that I’m all about that kind of thing – ⭐️


Ballet and My Brain

As my summer dance classes come to an end, I am reflecting on why I dance. It’s certainly not because I’m any good at it! And while dancers generally love to perform in public, as an adult student, I don’t perform in shows. It isn’t even because ballet gives me flexibility. It’s the exact opposite, in fact; ballet demands flexibility rather than contributing to it. Dancers spend a lot of time stretching so they can do the movements (I don’t stretch nearly enough, and it shows in my technique).

For me, dance is hard work. I am not strong or graceful. But the most difficult is the memory work. My summer dance teacher has new variations of every exercise each class. That means an average of ten different patterns of movement for about sixteen bars of music every night, before we move away from the barre and do short routines in the centre. Throughout, I am making my feet go one way while my arms (and sometimes my head) are doing something quite different. That is a lot of exercise for my brain as well as my body, and it is what makes dance so wonderful as I age.

According to a widely-cited 21 year study of people 75 or older published in the New England Journal of Medicine (, the only physical activity that appears to provide protection against dementia is dance. The study doesn’t explore what it is about dance that is so effective, but one of my former teachers swears that it is the combination of movement with memory work that helps build new neural pathways and keep our brains young. Every time I reach the end of class, I quietly celebrate the fact that I have fought off cognitive decline for another week, along with osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Dance: all by itself, it is the anti-decline-from-aging trifecta.

Older woman in black pants and shirt dancing joyfully,


Quick Hit Dance Workouts to Keep You Awake

Do you ever have the kind of day where working from home seems to put you to sleep? The home office set-up isn’t great so you have migrated to the comfy couch. You have no physical meetings to attend, so you just sink deeper and deeper into the upholstery. No-one ever seems to schedule breaks between those virtual meetings, so there is no chance to get up and stretch, grab a fresh cup of tea, or even go to the bathroom. Suddenly hours have gone by and you can barely move. Maybe that’s just me.

I am trying really hard to break this pattern. I use an app on my phone to remind me to get up and move for five minutes every half hour – when it doesn’t interfere with those meetings, or my flow when trying to write or revise documents.

When I do use that app, or just have a few free minutes, what to do? There isn’t enough time for a yoga session or a walk around the block; I feel silly doing jumping jacks or squats. But I can get behind a quick YouTube dance video. Today it was a couple of six minute videos from MOOV, a hip-hop/street dance studio in Ottawa.

There are so many to check out on YouTube. Zumba, hiphop, salsa, African dance, Bollywood, even Disney tunes – all in 10 minutes or less. But right now my favourites are the Caleb Marshall dance workouts. Inclusive, easy to follow, and just a little bit goofy so I don’t stress about messing. They are perfect. Check this out and see if it doesn’t bring a smile to your space as you bop around on your “way to the next meeting”:


Happy #InternationalDanceDay!

According to Days of the Year “Dance is one of the ultimate activities to destress, lose inhibitions, meet new people, and boost physical health.”

Whether it is classical ballet, Bollywood, square dance, Zumba, Jazzercise, ballroom, hip-hop, folkdance, or any of the multitude of other dance forms, today is the day to put on some music and be joyful while you move. Bop around your kitchen between meetings. Shake your bootie if that’s what makes you happy.

I love to dance. I love everything about the experience, no matter what the dance form: the music, the challenge of executing each movement perfectly, the chance to pretend I am a prima ballerina or the star of an old movie musical. Sometimes it’s an excuse to get dressed up in something sparkly and show off. It is a source of several valued friendships. It’s a fantastic way to improve posture, and build strength and flexibility. The memory work involved in learning dance patterns is also great for your brain; combined with the social aspects and the physical exercise, it may even help fight off dementia.

These days, I do an average of three dance classes a week. I would do more if my schedule permitted. In fact, I love dance so much I also celebrate World Ballet Day on October 29. I’m definitely not your stereotypical ballerina, but neither are my classmates. We are mostly middle aged or older, and many – like me – started dancing as adults (I was in my mid-40s).

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Diane wearing a black leotard and huge smile, in the ballet studio

Who inspires me as a dancer? Sonja Rodrigues, a mother of two who is still a prima ballerina at age 50. The dancers of Pretty Big Movement, a New-York based full-figured dance company that specializes in hip-hop, jazz, African and modern. Debbie Allen, the dance teacher in in the movie and TV show Fame, who is still teaching and performing at 71. And every one of my ballet, lyrical, modern, English country, Renaissance, belly, Bollywood and powwow dance teachers over the years. You taught me how to push myself to be strong, expressive and joyful.

Dance teacher in a purple shirt and black leggings demonstrating a pirouette from her home studio during a Zoom class

Happy international dance day! Everybody dance now!

Diane Harper lives and dances in Ottawa.


Dancing as a Cultural Experience

Sam, Cate and Susan have all written about their dance experiences in the 80s, something I managed to meet almost entirely (though I did own a copy of a Jane Fond workout book that I never used). Weirdly, I did rather enjoy those high school girls-only gym classes in the 70s, where we learned folk dances and square dancing. That might have influenced my curiosity about dance options over the last decade.

Following a foot injury and surgery, I needed a way to dance that was easier on my feet than ballet. Since I knew people in the local bellydance community, I decided to give that a whirl. It turned out to be the most body positive dance form I have ever enjoyed. The annual student performances were a celebration of all ages, sizes, and dance styles. There were university students through to women in their 70s, tall, short, thin, fat, traditional Egyptian dances, American Tribal, and even popular music interpreted through bellydance. There were rank beginners and breathtakingly skilled experts. Almost all were women, though we did get a few men in one of the Bollywood groups.

Seven women dancing in colourful costumes and headdresses. The music was actually a carnival song from St Lucia.

Those Bollywood performances led me to my next experiment. Without a doubt, Bollywood was the most physically demanding in terms of sustained cardio workout of any dance form I have tried. But so much fun! There are all kinds of Bollywood and Bhangra dance videos available on YouTube if you want to try. I particularly enjoy those showing off iconic Canadian images, such as this one from Peggy’s Cove (, or any of Gurdeep Pandher’s videos from Whitehorse, Yukon.

Women in a mix of colourful Bollywood and bellydance costumes. This was at a fundraiser to provide menstrual products to homeless women.

More recently, I have taken advantage of opportunities join on-line classes offered as part of Black History Month and Ontario Culture Days. They were a very approachable way to learn a bit about Black history and various communities in Canada.

My latest love is powwow workouts, a series of weekly classes offered through the Indigenous Theatre at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. These classes are based on powwow dance steps but can vary widely. Some weeks they are almost like a HIIT workout to indigenous hip-hop. Other weeks there is a bit of modern choreography using traditional steps, to the sounds of traditional musicians or popular groups like A Tribe Called Red or Snotty Nosed Rez Kids. Occasionally there is a gentler class with traditional dances, complete with a bit of a language lesson and the meaning of the movements. I even tried my hand at hoop dancing.

With most of these classes, I worry about the perception of cultural appropriation. But bellydance is largely a western invention (though it has roots in traditional Middle Eastern dance), and that is the only style I have ever performed in public. All the other classes have been taught by or included people from the cultures where the dances originated, and were intended to introduce students to the basic steps, regardless of their origins.

What about you? Did you ever try folk or traditional dance? If it wasn’t from your culture of origin, did it make you feel uncomfortable, or was it a fun way to learn about others?

Diane Harper is from Ottawa, where she joyfully dances around her living room.


Sam does the grapevine, with joy and humour!

Wow. Cate and Susan have very different memories and current enjoyment of 80s style aerobics workouts. (They actually say 80s and 90s style but I confess I was too busy with small children in the 90s–they were born in 92, 96, and 98–to do workouts of any kind other than towing them places in the bike trailer or strolling them to sleep. It’s a blur!)

Here’s some shots of active life in the 90s! Check out my long hair.

But back to the 80s.

And even the 70s. I’ll start there actually. It was junior high school and I was in the gifted class. It was Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, at Eric Graves Memorial Junior High, in grade 7. I had come from the Catholic school system in another province where we wore school uniforms. I still wore dresses and skirts because I was used to them (uncool) and I still had all one length long hair (also uncool). There was a dance club that was full cool girls and complicated choreography. The songs were things like, “Working at the Car Wash.”

These girls make it look it easy. It wasn’t. I couldn’t keep up or remember the choreography. I was asked to leave the club. They took me aside and told me that I was holding them back. Sob sigh.

Fast forward to high school. There was an exercise studio opening at the local mall. The dress code was leotards and tights, leg warmers. This was the Jane Fonda/Farrah Fawcett era. I was thinner, more fashionably dressed. I don’t remember what all the exercise routines were. I just know that I felt fat, clumsy, and out of place. Everyone seemed very lithe and very coordinated. This time since they were taking my money they didn’t ask me to leave. I quit.

The third time is the charm? In grad school–started in 88, finished in 93– I spent a year in a tiny apartment in a funky downtown building, River City. It had many charms including being walking distance to the University of Illinois at Chicago campus and the lake. It also had a fitness club. It was my first time going to commercial gym (rather than university gym) with weights and treadmills and group fitness classes. I loved the dance-y style aerobics classes. I learned to dance to disco ironically and joyfully all at the same time. We listened to musicals. Lots of the instructors were gay men. For the first time I was in an environment that was racially diverse, size diverse, and sexual orientation diverse. I continued taking classes through my pregnancy. I don’t even remember what I wore or what I looked like. I do remember having fun.

What changed? Obviously it was a different environment–more Richard Simmons and less Jane Fonda. More laughter, less angst and anxiety. But I was also a different person. I was en route to getting my PhD. At the end of my time there I was en route to being a parent. There was a lot going on in my life and very little of it was attached to my looks or my coordination. I was weightlifting, I was sailboat racing, and I was riding my bike around town. I’d found my place in the world. I was confident and I could laugh when I got things wrong.

Here’s Richard Simmons from that era.

Now there’s a whole new world of dance fitness.

I tried dance fitness classes at GoodLife a few years back. I liked Zumba but there was also a “sexy” dance fitness class with so called “stripper” moves and I loathed it. It took me back to the bad Jane Fonda days of high school, not the fun campy dancing of grad school. So back to Cate and Susan’s post I can feel both of their reactions. I’ll give a hard no to performative femininity in my fitness classes, but once I have new knees I’ll happily dance for fun and fitness.

More fun dance style fitness things here.

And here’s Eight of the best dance workout videos on YouTube.

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Sexercise? Really? That’s a thing?

Well, according to the Globe and Mail it is anyway.

Read Enough with the sexercise. Just let me work out already

Writing about Buti, the booty shaking, latest fitness craze in Hollywood Katrina Onstad says,

Really, Buti looks pretty much like one-person sex. In fact, a lot of working out is overtly linked to sex lately, and my liberal go-girl instincts are giving way to profound irritation. Suddenly, exercise – which is supposed to be a feel-good act in and of itself – has become another site of female inadequacy.

Pole dancing and striptease workouts have been around for years. In Toronto, a studio called Flirty Girl Fitness offers classes with names like “Pole Tricks,” “Rated R” and “Babes With Balls” (wait – that seems to refer to medicine balls). I understand how pole dancing could be a fun workout: It seems difficult and a little naughty, with some artistry required. But then again, Ryan Gosling is always right, and in Crazy, Stupid Love he said: “The war between the sexes is over and we won. We won the second women began doing pole dancing for exercise.”

Here’s Jezebel on the trend, I Can’t Stop Watching This Hypnotic Workout Video

Here is a review of the class from Well + Good nyc:

“We attended a preview class with Gold herself, who, in a string bikini, introduced us to its butt-shaking sequences set to club music. Buti is advertised as a “high-intensity workout that fuses yoga and dance with circuits of plyometrics and conditioning.” It actually consists of standard yoga sequences with lots of bump ‘n grind thrown in. So, once in plank pose or warrior II, you gyrate your hips. When in chair pose, you shake it like a Polaroid picture. There were a few high-energy cardio dance spurts where I started to have a lot of fun, but they ended too soon to get my heart rate up.”

Here’s my 2 cents. The sexy exercise phenomena isn’t new. I took a group fitness dance class at Goodlife more than five years ago (before I quit, read why here) that featured so-called “stripper moves.” I didn’t go back. Nothing wrong with being a stripper but faux stripper exercise isn’t for me.

Pole dancing classes have been around for awhile. I find them confusing mostly because the argument in favour seems based on a fallacy. Pole dancers have great bodies therefore to get a great body you should take up pole dancing? Um, no.

Katrina Onstad worries that this makes exercise yet another site of female inadequacy. But kind of like looking cute to work out, I suspect it’s empowering for some and alienating for others. Mileage may vary. If it feels good, go for it, though none of it strikes me as particularly challenging exercise. I like my cardio with intensity, my lifting with heavy weights, and yoga, when I do it, with lots of attention to form. I’d think of this like I do dancing generally. Not a serious work out but better for you and more fun than housework or watching tv.

What’s the attraction? Obviously some people think it’s sexy and fun. Some people think if you like two things, say like food and sex, the combo is even better. Not me. Not food and sex. Not exercise and sex either. If it’s fun for you, great. But me, I’ll stick to running, biking, rowing, weight lifting, soccer etc.

And finally, here’s the video:

Booty shaking yoga, Hollywood’s latest craze,