Brooklyn seniors learn flamenco, improv, and more through SU-CASA residencies

We’re celebrating National Arts in Education Week by sharing stories of how #ArtsEdChangesLives. Today, we’re looking at the impact that arts education can have for Brooklyn’s older adults through two of BAC’s SU-CASA artist residencies.

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As part of BAC’s commitment to providing creative aging programs for older adults, SU-CASA residencies connect teaching artists with senior centers to bring new and deepening artistic exploration in any discipline. Resident artists come from a wide range of art forms, bringing everything from painting, ceramics, and cyanotype to music composition, photography, and Spanish literature to centers across Brooklyn.

Olé in Sheepshead Bay

At Sephardic Multi-Purpose Senior Center in Sheepshead Bay, flamenco artist Sol Koreaus dubbed her weekly dance classes “Flamenco Fiesta.” Originally from Argentina, Sol is a Brooklyn-based artist who proved to be a popular fixture with students during her residency.

“I projected around 10 students, but every week there were more and more coming,” she said.

Participants were excited to notice that they had better balance and mobility after taking Sol’s classes, which included warm-up and dance exercises for seated and standing participants, individual and group dance improvisation, and memorization of movement phrases. The combination of socializing, exercise, and live music gave the class a strong reputation even outside of the Sephardic Senior Center.

“Friends started coming from other senior centers because they heard about [the program],” said Sol.

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Laughter is contagious at Tompkins Park Senior Center

At Tompkins Park Senior Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant, improv teaching artist Alex Schmidt was excited to share their skills with neighborsthe senior center is only two blocks from where they live.

To help participants feel more comfortable in class, Alex arrived early each week to socialize ahead of time. The strategy worked, Alex said, noting that the center’s director often remarked how much she appreciated being able to hear laughter drifting from the class to her office.

“Not only did we experience 90 minutes of laughter therapy, we imparted it to anyone in the center within earshot,” said Alex.

Even introverted members of the senior center showed up, bringing a more outgoing side of themselves to their classmates.

“When the class began, one particular member was one of the quieter in our group.” said Alex. “By the end of the residency, the person that we witnessed was affectionate, warm, funny, spirited, and respected.”

Sharing with the community

Each SU-CASA residency includes a public program component–culminating exhibits, readings, performances, open houses, or other cultural events open to the surrounding community. At the Sephardic Center, participants created their own movement in preparation for their culminating performance, wearing skirts purchased for the class. According to Sol, members said they appreciated flamenco for making them feel healthy and strong.

FY_18_SU-CASA Tompkins_Alex Schmidt 1At Tompkins Park Senior Center, Alex applauded the once-shy participant for taking ownership of their final performance.

“I saw her come out of her shell and take a leadership role in our final performance. I saw her recruiting, directing, and most importantly: laughing a lot,” said Alex.

Both Alex and members of the improv class came away with new perspectives.

“I look forward to seeing how my work with senior citizens and improv comedy evolves thanks to the immeasurable impact this program has made on me and my friends at Tompkins Park Senior Center,” they said.

Interested in becoming a SU-CASA teaching artist or hosting a residency? Learn more about the program here.

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