The Hip-Operation Crew, with an average age of 81, prove that age is no barrier to reaching the world championships, says Margaret Jennings.
THEY are the oldest hip-hop dance group in the world — appropriately called The Hip-Operation Crew — with 22 members, average age 81.
And although they have numerous medical issues, that didn’t stop them from travelling thousands of miles from their home-base at Waiheke, a little island off the east coast of New Zealand, to perform at the World Hip Hop Championships in Las Vegas.
That was two years ago and they are still going strong.
None of them have died in the meantime, but they have made a pact that if anyone does while they are dancing, well, they will just step over the body, jokes their manager and choreographer, 45-year-old New Zealander Billie Jordan.
They’ve adopted names such as Kara Bang Bang (real name Kara Nelson, aged 95), Quick Silver (Maynie Thompson, 96) and Sergeant Sel (Selwyn Redwood, 94), but such feisty personas belie the isolation and hopelessness that all of the elderly troupe experienced before they took to dancing.
Billie, who was in a bad place emotionally herself, identified with how “completely marginalised and underestimated” by society older people are.
“People think investing in the future of anyone over 60 is a waste, regardless of the fact that they are only two thirds through their life,” she says.
“It’s appalling and needs to stop. Seniors have so much untapped potential which could not only bring joy and inspire others, but also make themselves feel more valued, happy and healthy.”
She proved this herself. She got in her black van and rounded up anyone who looked 65 and older to set up “the world’s oldest flash mob,” and after that, she set them the extremely tough challenge of working towards the world hip-hop championships, held eight months later.
That’s some achievement, since all of them have arthritis; 14 have had hip and knee replacements; five have had open heart surgery; four use mobility aids; six are deaf and one is blind.
In addition, five are suffering from dementia which Billie says is manageable, because she taught those members by “focussing on the muscle memory, as by repetition it forms a much stronger memory than the brain does.”
But nothing is insurmountable as Billie and her crew have proven. She found herself in the midst of the Christchurch earthquake six weeks after deciding to leave her dysfunctional family background. It was after that she landed in Waiheke.
“I knew that possessions didn’t matter as much as personal growth and doing something of value for your community.”
Though the eight-month build-up proved financially and mentally draining for her, achieving that Las Vegas goal was fantastic.
“It was well worth it as we were able to inspire other senior citizens all over the world and help reduce the stigma of ageing – our main aim.”
Giving the crew — the youngest who is 68 and the oldest 96 — something to work towards, a new focus in their lives, has benefitted them on many levels.
“I’ve noticed huge changes,” says Billie.
“Physically they look about ten years younger and their doctors say they’re healthier now than they’ve been in years.
"They’re more joyous, confident, self-assured, positive and excited about their futures. They’re completely different people.
“If any of them gets sick their recovery time is super quick because they don’t want to miss out on rehearsals or performances.
"One had a stroke and checked himself out of hospital the next day to attend dance class, another broke her pelvis and was back at rehearsal six weeks later.
"Many of them have started new hobbies and know they’re capable of doing anything.
“When they returned from Las Vegas one member went off backpacking on her own in Asia - something she’d always wanted to do — and finally did it — at the age of 95!”
Billie, who has now won several awards for her voluntary work with the crew, admits she had first thought older people didn’t like new experiences – though she obviously challenged that perception full on.
It’s a perception that permeates through society. For instance, a lot of travel companies she points out, offer older people cruises, or “boring bus tours” where they are “treated like cargo to be dropped off and picked up again.”
She has also set up a travel company called Discover Me Travel, which offers much more exciting alternatives, such as being an elephant mahout in the jungles of northern Thailand, or swimming with dolphins.
So what is her advice to Irish people feeling stuck in an ageing rut?
“Think of the very last thing you would ever think of doing – and go do it! When you go outside your comfort zone you accelerate your personal growth and become more confident, more alive and a lot happier.”
Learn about the four myths of dementia https://goo.gl/q5BTUQ
ACTIVE OVER 50s
If you want to see what other people aged over 50 are up to, then take a peek at the show that is created for that purpose, running next weekend from October 9.
The Active Over 50s Show takes place at the RDS in Dublin over the three days, with 250 exhibitors covering everything from health, statutory rights, hobbies, holidays, personal finance and more.
There are also workshops, celebrity guest appearances and a series of free health checks and talks.
Organisers are giving away a limited number of free tickets so go to their website, below, click on the Book Event icon and put in your request for tickets and dates and they will email you back with a response.
It's in his kiss
Ninety-year-old former US president, Jimmy Carter, is showing his spunk, as he keeps up public appearances despite undergoing treatment for cancer.
On August 20 he announced that melanoma had spread to his brain and he would be starting radiation treatment almost immediately.
Then on September 17, Georgia-based Carter was caught smooching with his wife Roslynn, on the Kiss Cam while watching his favourite baseball team, the Atlanta Braves, at the local pitch, Turner Field.
The Kiss Cam is a feature at US games when the camera scans the crowd during an interval and selects a couple, who appear on the giant screens in the arena.
When asked recently how he was coping with his diagnosis he replied: “The best thing I ever did was marry Rosa and we’ve had 69 years together.”
Check out the kiss at http://goo.gl/qQew3O
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