Let's dance! Witless Bay seniors ready to boogie after successful appeal to government

·3 min read
Residents of the Alderwood Retirement Centre in Witless Bay, N.L., shimmy and shake in a YouTube video aimed at persuading the provincial government to loosen its COVID-19 dancing restrictions in care homes.  (Brian Downton/YouTube - image credit)
Residents of the Alderwood Retirement Centre in Witless Bay, N.L., shimmy and shake in a YouTube video aimed at persuading the provincial government to loosen its COVID-19 dancing restrictions in care homes. (Brian Downton/YouTube - image credit)
Brian Downton/YouTube
Brian Downton/YouTube

After nearly 17 months of waiting, and a clever music video parodying the 1984 film Footloose, seniors at Alderwood Estates in Witless Bay, N.L., are ready to blow the roof off the place Saturday night.

The seniors will host their first dance since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, days after making a successful appeal to the provincial government to change the rules on dances in long-term care homes as vaccination rates go up across the province.

After the video made its way to the desk of Health Minister John Haggie, the announcement that dances can resume was made at Wednesday's COVID-19 briefing.

"I thank the folk at Alderwood Retirement Home for raising this. It was never really our intent to restrict those once the vaccination levels rose, and certainly we've clarified that in an email to personal-care homes," Haggie said Wednesday.

"I thank the Footloose fans for bringing it to my attention. And the offer for the dance card is great, but I'm no Patrick Swayze so you will be sadly disappointed."

Once the news made its way to the seniors at Alderwood, recreation director Renee Houlihan said the seniors' plans quickly began to take shape.

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

"We were on our way home yesterday from an outing … and we got the news on the bus. They were going crazy! They were jumping in their seats. They were jubilant, triumphant, even," Houlihan told The St. John's Morning Show on Thursday.

"Almost a minute later, they were like, 'OK, this is what we're going to do. On Saturday at our Capelin Festival, we're gonna break out in a flash mob and we're gonna just shut down Harbour Road with our excitement.'… They were so excited, it was amazing."

WATCH | Seniors at Alderwood Estates present their own version of Footloose:

Along with the jubilation over being able to host a dance, Houlihan said the news also provided a sense of validation for the seniors, who often feel they can be left out by government when it comes to decision-making.

"One of them said, 'Look, now that we did that, all the other seniors in the province can dance too,' she said. They feel like they had a purpose, and that they were successful.… You want to feel that you matter, that you have a voice.

"That type of validation, where would I get that? You can't buy that at Costco.… [Haggie] told them that they matter. That's really what we wanted, it's like water to a thirsty plant."

Katie Breen/CBC
Katie Breen/CBC

Houlihan said she hopes it can be an example of finding new and effective ways to engage seniors in decisions that affect their lives and others.

But in the meantime, she and the seniors have a dance to plan.

"It's going to be madness.… We're going to pick a particular song and everyone, whether they're in a hospital bed, will be wheeled out into that parking lot to dance," she said, laughing.

"I'm afraid they're going to say, 'Listen, I don't want to eat broccoli anymore.' I don't know what's going to happen next, because power can be heavy."

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