A few weeks ago I watched a programme called How not to get old, which introduced the viewers to Belinda, a woman of a certain age, who had a body that any 25-year-old would be proud of. She shared with us the secret of her success, doing exercises that sculpt the body.
This all brought to mind a super fit lady whom I have the privilege of meeting a number of years ago, through the South African High Commission. Her name is Elsa Perez, and at 78 years of age she is a remarkable woman.
Elsa grew up in Rosebank, Cape Town then after the group areas act her family moved to Lansdowne. She left South Africa in 1961 to study further. She trained as a teacher of maladjusted children at London University, although by this stage had already been teaching for six years, with physical education, dance and puppetry very much part of her work.
Elsa has always loved dancing. Her family could not afford dance lessons for Elsa and her sister, but from the age of eight she was allowed to watch the lessons. Of this time she says, â€œWe stole with our eyes and practised at home.” They were both musical and could remember tunes well, even today she can remember the ‘highland fling’ from those days.
Her older cousin taught her to dance from the age of 12, culminating in performances in Sunday school concerts. At 13 her 16-year-old brother taught her to jive and do the samba which she still loves today.
Elsa learnt from her father to ballroom dance and at 13 she attended her first dance, where she danced with the members of the cricket club. To date she has only taken time off from dancing to have her children.
The Iberian Folk Dance group in London was already established when she joined, 13 years ago. A friend asked her to teach her partner the female part of the Argentinian Tango, which she did. After this she was invited to join the group and fell in love with the dances, Spanish, Portuguese and Mexican. After three years she started to teach the newer dances that she had learnt from the guest teachers. She says of herself that she has â€œa good memory for music and dance”. When the last secretary died, she took over the running of the group.
Elsa also leads the Proteas dance group, made up of mainly expat South Africans, some of whom dance in the Iberian Group.
The Proteas have been going for 10 years and started off doing the quadrille and the Tafelberg Commercial Square. Elsa remembers, â€œOne of the members had a 60th birthday party, and we put our heads together to remember the figures we used to dance in the ‘50s and ‘60s. At the party the men took over and spoilt what we had practised.”
They then decided to start a group and practise dances Elsa has choreographed to South African music. They dance the Cuban Rueda and the Cuban Conga too.
Recently I crossed paths again with Elsa when I found myself in charge of a rehab ward full of depressed and bored patients. I asked Elsa if she would put on a show, which she readily agreed, appearing a few weeks later with a group of eight dancers including Jackie who is a trained Zumba gold teacher.
Besides dancing various dances from Cuba, Mexico and Spain, they had the patients participating in chair based dancing. The feedback was very positive; it helped kickstart some of the patients’ rehab progress and some made a full recovery.
The result was that Elsa and her dancers were asked to make a film for the trust I work for. Called Listening to patients, it will be shown at the next AGM to all the different departments of the trust. Because the top management thought this was a very innovative idea, they want to see if this dance programme can be rolled out to other units for the benefit of the patients.
Elsa is extremely busy with dance and other commitments, including:
ELSAS’ WISH LIST:
Elsa does some fantastic work, she is very generous with her time and expertise but like most things, she needs some help to continue.
Contact Elsa on 02087693919 or email@example.com
by Moira Rowan