Solid Footing

Dance isn’t just fun and games—it might help you live longer, too.



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(From left) Meryl Herman Friedlander, Joy Lurie Friedlander and Wynnewood’s Susan Glazer at the University of the Arts’ School of Dance. Photo by Luigi CiuffetelliFor obvious anecdotal proof that dancing helps you live longer, look to the stars. MGM musical sensation Cyd Charisse, who hoofed it from the stage alongside classically trained Russian ballet dancers and became a Hollywood icon dancing with Gene Kelly in “Singing in the Rain,” lived to an active and healthy 86. Kelly himself lived to a vital 84.

Philadelphia’s Nicholas Brothers, Harold and Fayard, lived into their 70s and 90s, respectively, after wowing audiences with their acrobatic feats on film and the stage for over 60 years.

More recently, Priscilla Presley, at 62, showed her stuff as the oldest woman to ever compete on Dancing with the Stars, ABC’s massively popular celebrity dance competition, while claiming the rigorous workout required of her during rehearsals for the show resulted in her losing “inches” from her waistline.

Closer to Earth, the examples can be less obvious, but just as dramatic. They might be your octogenarian great aunt and uncle who still kick it out like they did when they were teens, displaying not only the physical stamina of younger people, but the mental and psychological advantages, as well.

Or one of them might be 45-year-old Jamie Bortz, who was diagnosed with an acute arthritic condition that necessitated a full hip replacement. Now 47, Bortz credits her love of dance as both the thing that helped her get through the surgery and its painful recovery, and her incentive for working so hard to do just that.

Since childhood, dancing was not only Bortz’s passion, but also the thing that kept her body lean, flexible and fit—and her mind sharp. As an adult, she has created dedicated dance space at every home she’s lived in. During her 20s and 30s, she could be seen dancing with bands based out of her hometown of Reading or as a platform dancer at nightclubs.

But when the pain began and doctors couldn’t determine the cause, she feared she might never dance again. That fear was deepened by the determination of doctors at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s Rothman Institute, which told her the hip would have to be replaced. But hip and knee specialist and institute founder Dr. Richard Rothman suggested she might regain 90 percent of her movement and flexibility.

Even Rothman, who is also the James Edwards Professor of Orthopedic Sur-gery at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital, wasn’t prepared for the full extent of Bortz’s recovery. He was surprised to discover that, five weeks after surgery, she was doing toe touches. “He had never seen anyone recover so quickly,” Bortz says.

Bortz credits much of the success with her recovery to the flexibility she developed through dance early in life—and to the healing power of getting her body back in motion.

“I never really used it as exercise. But now that I’m getting older, I guess it was always my method of staying flexible and keeping a nice, toned body,” she says. “Staying flexible keeps you feeling young, and the dancing helps me stay flexible.”

As for Rothman himself, he extols the benefits of dance with almost evangelical zeal. For him, the focus is on “achieving immortality,” which he says requires a combination of physical and mental exertion that’s readily available in dance.
 

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