Dancing into old age: Ballerina shares health benefits of ballet with Nevada County seniors | TheUnion.com

Dancing into old age: Ballerina shares health benefits of ballet with Nevada County seniors

Hayley Wingerd adjusts the posture of a student in her Postural Alignment class for adults. An accomplished dancer, Wingerd incorporates ballet techniques into her classes to help students increase flexibility, strength and balance.
Cory Fisher/Cory@theunion.com |


What: Adult ballet/postural alignment class

Where: Dance with Laura Bishop, 540 Searls Ave., Nevada City.

When: Mondays, 6:30 to 7:45 p.m.

Cost: Drop-in. All classes are $10.

For more information, contact Hayley Wingerd at dancerhayleyrose@gmail.com or call the Dance with Laura Bishop studio at 530-265-2690.

Laura Bishop remembers the day Hayley Wingerd first walked into her Nevada City dance studio.

She was a shy, chubby-legged 7 year old who sat in the corner for four months before mustering the courage to join the class. But once she got up, her focus, passion and determination were quickly evident.

It didn’t take long before she emerged from her shell and began to show true promise as a dancer.

No one was surprised when Wingerd was accepted into the Joffrey Ballet School’s New York City summer program at the age of 16, then was asked to stay for the year. She stayed for five. But two life experiences eventually shifted Wingerd’s initial goal of spending years as a professional dancer.

“I knew my type of training could benefit the older population in Nevada County, especially those who are eager to stay active.” — Hayley Wingerd

The first was taking a teacher training course at Joffrey, where she was introduced to the joy of working with beginning dancers. The second was a repetitive motion injury in the sacroiliac joint of her hip, which caused significant back pain and required lengthy rehabilitation.

“After dancing for many hours a day for months and months I was forced to take time off,” said Wingerd. “I had to learn how to walk correctly again.”

Three years ago, Wingerd moved back to Nevada County and became interested in injury rehabilitation and prevention. She began taking kinesiology and nutrition courses at Sierra College and is now a certified personal trainer.

“I loved the classes so much that I became a tutor in the kinesiology department,” she said, with a smile. “That allowed me to share my geeky knowledge.”

No experience necessary

Wingerd is now teaching 20 hours a week at Dance with Laura Bishop, the studio she first wandered into, terrified, as a 7 year old. While she now loves teaching young children, she has recently developed a new course that integrates all of her passions: adult ballet for postural alignment and fitness training. Currently, her students are all over the age of 60, male and have no dance experience. Typical workout wear is shorts and a T-shirt.

Perfect, she said.

“I knew my type of training could benefit the older population in Nevada County, especially those who are eager to stay active,” Wingerd continued. “Statistics show that falling injuries can deeply cut into a person’s life span. I focus on posture, flexibility, balance and strengthening the core. I want my students to learn to be aware of their own body’s alignment while doing everyday things, like walking, getting out of a car and picking a box up off the floor.”

Studies have shown there can be enormous health benefits to practicing ballet. Examples include better posture alignment, flexibility, stress relief and an increase in muscle strength and balance, said Wingerd. And it turns out, ballet is good for the mind, too. Dance moves and positions can enhance sensorimotor skills, as they engage both hemispheres of the brain. Research has also found that learning new dance moves can lessen the progression of age-related mental impairment, such as dementia.

“Ballet has given me an understanding of body alignment through movement patterns that are a complement to what I’ve learned as a personal trainer,” said Wingerd. “And my injury has forced my to make a lifestyle change, but I’ve had a lot of success and don’t have the pain I once had. I’m more prone to injury, so I understand when people have a limited range of movement. I’m now very sensitive to the challenges of injury and age. My classes are for everyone, at any skill level. I think I have a lot of knowledge to share.”

‘More confident, empowered’

“Hayley is a fantastic teacher — she’s very patient and caters to all levels,” said Bishop. “This adult ballet class is not a place to feel nervous or intimidated. Her injury has made her more sensitive to older students, and when she is passionate about something, she learns everything possible to succeed. She gives 120 percent all the time. I can’t give her enough praise.”

Since beginning her adult ballet/postural alignment class in February, Wingerd says the most rewarding part of teaching is seeing the progress made in her students.

“My class is offered once a week and I’m seeing them able to stand up straighter — no upper back hunch — and they’re not shuffling anymore,” she said. “They seem more confident and empowered. I love seeing how this class has positively affected their daily lives.

“They’ve gotten out of the fear zone of getting older and losing mobility. A lot of it is a mental shift — going from a fear pattern to realizing you can take control of your own health.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.

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