Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Queen's Birthday Honours: New moves for older limbs

Billie Jordan

Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to seniors and dance

After the killer Christchurch earthquake, Billie Jordan quit her job working for a large corporation, moved to Waiheke Island, and learned hip hop dancing by watching clips on YouTube.

An abusive childhood had left her with post-traumatic stress disorder and she feared death lurked around every corner.

Queen's Birthday Honours list 2016

She wanted to do something to help older people continue to live happy, independent lives post-retirement and shatter what she saw as fatal ageism in society.

"I noticed how people had very fixed ideas about what old people can do, should do, or not do and thought that hip hop would put the cat amongst the pigeons," said 46-year-old Ms Jordan, who has been honoured as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to seniors and dance.

"I couldn't believe there were no expectations of old people. People tell them, 'Don't worry about that', and 'Don't get up', which is really demoralising."

Scouring Waiheke Island for elderly recruits, she formed the "world's oldest flash mob". Her first member was a 92-year-old former church deacon.

The group trained and performed a remarkable dance that became a Guinness World Record, which has now been viewed on YouTube more than 3.2 million times.

She wanted to keep pushing her elderly crew and decided to teach them hip hop. But first she needed to learn the dance moves herself so she could teach them, all on a voluntary basis.

Her members were "stunned mullets" when she then told them they were training to performed at the World Hip Hop Dance Championship in Las Vegas. "At first, the older dancers wouldn't really try hard. They had this attitude, 'We'll just get clapped because we're old'.

"But I set them high goals, and made them work hard to earn the respect. Watching their self-esteem and confidence grow was so rewarding. They revel in it, they love it."

Their extraordinary journey to the world championships was captured in an award-winning documentary film, Hip Hop-eration.

Since then, they've competed in Taiwan and in the New Zealand national hip hop championships three times. There is a core group of seven members, aged 71-96.

Last month she launched the global Hip Op-eration Dance Academy, an online 30-hour course which teaches people to become dance instructors for the elderly.

Ms Jordan wants to change the world's attitude towards ageing, defy expectations of the elderly, and help bridge the gap with youth.

"I find it sad that people think old people are a waste of space. When you are 65, you could live for another 30 years. What are you supposed to do, stare at the wall?"

Her message for those with elderly relatives or friends is: "Don't change their expectations, keep them high. Don't say, 'I'll get that for you, Nana'. She can do it herself. Otherwise, it can be fatal, because they give up."

- NZ Herald

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