Cheryl Vassiliadis has been in love with dancing since she was a little girl. Her parents, who also had a love for the arts (her mother, in particular, for piano and ballet) supported her dream from a young age. Cheryl was accepted into an esteemed ballet company at age 11, and during her first costume fitting for the company, the tailor had an impossible time making the hem of her tutu straight. Cheryl was diagnosed with double scoliosis, and told she would have to stop dancing. It was the most devastating week of her life.
While she was recuperating and staying in bed, Cheryl kept her feet moving in the choreography she remembered. Though she fell out of practice, her artistic expression manifested itself other ways as she grew up, started a family, and began a career in writing.
When she got older, Cheryl moved to an active adult community. One day, she noticed that the facilities had a beautiful dance floor, and knew that she had to begin using it. The friends she made while taking yoga and water aerobics encouraged her to begin teaching dance classes. It snowballed from there.
Cheryl now teaches a dance class that caters especially to older adults called, “Flowing Rhythm.” It focuses on pairing beginner dance choreography with current, popular music. Most of the women in her classes are age 65 and older, and regularly say that they aren’t afraid to get old anymore now that they see what they can do. Cheryl feels the same way. When she was 40, she didn’t think she’d be happy at 60, but she’s really enjoying this time in her life. “Not everyone who’s getting old is thinking old,” she says.
Cheryl’s mother Loril Hartman is another great creative ager who was inspired by her friends. She stopped playing the piano as she aged due to arthritis in her fingers. When a man down the hall in her retirement community asked her to play for him, she was reluctant, but started off with very basic songs. She gradually added more difficult pieces and because of all her practicing her arthritis is more manageable and she can play beautifully again.
For anyone who wants to get into the arts, Cheryl’s word of advice is to go back to childhood passions-- things you loved before you had the commitments of a career and a family. You have more time when you get older, so start small and see what you are able to do. Observe your engaged peers, but start gradually, and don’t expect to instantly be where they are. Work to show others that you can indeed ease your way back into doing the things you once loved.
Cheryl is so passionate on the subject that she’s co-authoring a book with Joanna Romer called Creative Aging: A Baby Boomer’s Guide to Successful Living. It focuses on the individual’s potential as they get older, and the fact that aging isn’t a disease. “When you get caught up doing something you love,” Cheryl says, “you forget about your aches and pains.”