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Flash Mob Video Disrupts Aging Stereotypes

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Alexandra Chittick, 7, of Sterling Heights, leads a 'flash mob' — including from left in orange shirts: Leslie White, Sandra Pickett, Bernadine Hynes, Emily Cooper and Rudy Cooper, Jr.—in a dance routine that disrupts stereotypes about aging, during the filming of a video for AARP Michigan. Photos by David Lewinski

By Melissa Preddy

Crazy hearts, wild and free, we’re gonna live forever, you and me…

The synthesized beat of an up-tempo dance tune blared from loudspeakers near the shore of Lake St. Clair, where dozens of volunteers earnestly followed choreographer Jason Tiede through moves like “Wave!” “Point!” “Back over!” and “Freestyle!”

June 21 2017-AARP Flashmob Detroit
Gloria Smith and Howard Wade of Jackson move to the beat.

A sense of urgency pervaded the peppy practice session in Harrison Township. The troupers, in shorts, T-shirts and Capri pants, had about four hours to perfect their routine and then perform as a flash mob—a group that seems to come together instantly for a social media performance—for an AARP Michigan video supporting the association’s “Disrupt Aging” awareness campaign.

“We want to highlight the talent and opportunities older adults embrace,” said Jennifer Muñoz, AARP Michigan associate state director.

Among the performers were Emily and Rudy Cooper, of Grand Rapids, who had risen at 5 a.m. to join a busload of other volunteers from across the state, headed for what organizers hope will be viral social media fame.

Emily, 88, and Rudy, 92, kept up the moves at Tiede’s urging, sometimes bumping hips or linking hands with other dancers, including young students invited to demonstrate proper technique.

“We’re pretty game,” said Emily, adding that they  do circuit training, weekly tai chi, swimming and Wii bowling, among other athletic activities, at their senior housing in Grand Rapids. “Move it or lose it, as they say.”

Upending stereotypes
Across the green, Stephanie Carr, 51, swirled in an elaborate blue-and-gold gown, showing off the belly-dancing techniques she teaches to older adults in a Detroit community center.

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Nothing holds back belly dancers Stephanie Carr, left, and Lorna Thomas.

The self-employed graphic artist said her students “aren’t the grannies of yesterday—there is nothing holding them back.

“And I don’t feel I should stop doing anything I was doing prior to age 50,” she added.

AARP has been promoting the disrupt aging concept via a book of the same name by CEO Jo Ann Jenkins and other efforts to push back against ageism and help older Americans reject over-the-hill labels that limit potential.

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Ernestine Shepherd shows off her competitive body building form.

Ernestine Shepherd is all about upending those stereotypes. Clad in bright red spandex tights and a crop top, she posed front and center at the video shoot to display the fat-free physique and taut muscles of a competitive bodybuilder—at age 81.

The retired school secretary didn’t start working out until she was 56. These days, she awakens at 2:30 a.m.for a daily run and trains others four days a week.

“You’ve got to keep moving despite those aches and pains,” she advised.

After a quick boxed lunch, the budding flash mob did a final rehearsal—drawing applause from bystanders—and then producer/director John Garner commanded “Places, everyone!” for the first full run-through.

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Proving that age is no barrier, these dancers are grooving.

“Let’s give it our A game here,” Tiedes urged, to whoops and excited chatter. As parasailers skimmed above the lake and helicopters hovered overhead, the dancers waved, jumped and fist-pumped through several takes.

By midafternoon, the last chorus of the soundtrack faded away and participants streamed toward their cars and buses, warm and weary but satisfied.

“The point was to have fun and be innovative,” said Munoz. “And we pulled it off!”

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Videographer Nick Lancaster captures the flash mob for the AARP Michigan video.

See the video at aarp.org/mi  or on the state office’s Facebook page.

Melissa Preddy is a writer living in Plymouth, Mich.

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