Francis van den Berg has just taken up ballet.

Nothing particularly unusual about that, you might think, until you find out the Kerikeri resident is 89.

Mr van den Berg is one of the students in a ballet class organised by Age Concern which attracts 30 sprightly dancers every Thursday morning.

The aim, according to Age Concern Mid North manager Juen Duxfield, is to improve participants' balance, get them moving, and provide a chance to socialise.


Mr van den Berg said he was a regular at the Kerikeri Retirement Village gym so he thought he'd add dance to his exercise repertoire.

"The more you move the better, and you get to meet people," he said.

Margaret Lonie, 78, took ballet lessons from age 5 to 13. She belongs to a Scottish country dancing group but this was the first time in 65 years she'd tried ballet.

"I love dance, music, movement ... I can't point my toes any more but I'm really enjoying it. It's amazing how many people here are doing things they didn't think they could do."

The four-week Mind, Music and Movement course comprises two weeks of ballet, led by Liz Russell of the Northern Dance Academy, a week of nia dance (short for non-impact aerobics) and a week of line dancing.

It will be followed by a four-week "positive steps" programme in August aimed at helping older people retain their independence and well-being.

Mrs Duxfield hoped to get more funding so the fully-subscribed dance course could be repeated.

If there was enough demand Age Concern could keep the classes going by covering the cost of venue with the dancers paying a small fee for the instructor. The courses are open to anyone in the Mid North aged 65 and over.