Growth and Benefits

Senior Citizens take to Ballet

TIANJIN, Jan. 14  2005. (Xinhuanet). Sixty-three-year-old Pan Li does not mind getting up early at dawn to join her friends for a ballet performance, braving subzero early morning temperature in the dead of north China's winter.

For the professor from elite Tianjin University of Science and Technology, to showcase her superb dancing skills is as exciting as lecturing on students in her own field of physics. "Ballet helps stretch my limbs," said Prof. Pan as she dexterously and expertly tied the pink ribbons of her ballet shoes around her ankles. "In fact, it's brought great changes to my temperament and way of life."

Pan registered for a ballet dancing program at a senior citizens' school in Heping urban district of Tianjin three years ago. And she has kept to it ever since. She and her gray-headed classmates gather for practice every Thursday afternoon. "My both knees were wounded and operated on before, and I often tumbled in the past," Pan said. "I feel my legs more muscular after I took up dancing and despite my age, I'm always full of vigor."

The amateur ballerinas' dancing may not be elegant in the eyes of professional dancers, but it's enough to enable Pan and her peers to feel contented with a sense of accomplishment. "They're great and diligent, too," their tutor, a veteran ballet dancer who gave only her family name, Wang. "Come to think of it, they manage to tiptoe at age 50 or 60, while most career dancers would have started before 30."

In Heping district of downtown Tianjin, at least 23,000 elderly people, or 37 percent of the district's total, are attending special courses at senior citizens' schools. "I idled the first two years of my retired life with TV or playing mahjong," said a veteran blue-collar worker surnamed Li. "All that I cared in those days was how to win back what I had lost in the previous game." Today, Li said all her friends at the mahjong table have joined her on the stage at a senior citizens' school. Besides ballet dancing and fashion shows, the elderly students are also urged to take up photography, piano, traditional Peking opera, computer, painting, calligraphy and numerous other courses,said Meng Zhaozeng, vice president of the Senior Citizens' School In Heping district. "It's crucial to help the elderly pick up new information and skills so as to enrich their spiritual life," said Meng.

The world's most populous nation is striving to maintain the well-being of its growing contingent of senior citizens since aging has become a nationwide issue. Of China's 1.3 billion people, 134 million above 60, making the country home to the largest group of senior citizens in the world. Experts say the number is climbing at 3 percent annually and will account for 30 percent of the population by 2050. Some acknowledge the situation can be even more worrisome given the fact that only children have less time to spend with his aging parents in this fast-paced society. Chinese communities, they say, will therefore play a leading role in keeping the elderly people happy, contented and occupied by offering training programs, outings, exercises and other more personalized services.

China's largest city Shanghai, the first to report the advent of an aging society, has opened a senior citizens' school in nearly every urban community and most rural areas. Yet sociologists hold that there's still a lot to do as only 352,600 elderly citizens, or 14 percent of the municipality's total, are attending these schools.

Senior citizens take to ballet (15 Jan 2005)

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