The dance teacher
Jean Baker from Parkland Villas Ellenbrook in WA has a packed social calendar between spending time with friends in and outside of the village, and teaching seniors tap dancing.
Before I moved into Parkland Villas Ellenbrook I already had a lot of wonderful friends here. When my home was being built, I practically came to the village every day to watch the construction, and joined in just about everything that was going on in the clubhouse. Funnily enough, since I moved in, that’s changed – I’m a very, very active 70-year-old so I’m not often here. I came into the village for security, for the friendship, the usual things, but I have my own part-time business teaching seniors tap dancing. I’m very social with a lot of my dancing colleagues, many of whom have been dancing with me for over 20 years. The residents here call me Gypsy Jean, because they say I’m never home. But the thing I love about the village is that you can carry on with your life as normal and have a good life both inside and outside. It doesn’t restrict your lifestyle.
I’ve always been involved with mature aged dancers – I used to choreograph for another senior’s group. Now I just do my tap classes for exercise, social, fun and fitness. I have about 35 registered students aged from 45 to 79, and it’s great. I do a Beginners and Intermediate class on a Wednesday morning and an Experienced class on a Thursday, for 1.5 hours. It’s not about what we look like, it’s about enjoying ourselves and it keeps our brain active as well. I call my dancers The Young at Heart Tappers.
I get my leg pulled for not being in the village very often – people say to me, “Do you really live here Jean?” But despite that, they gave me a wonderful 70th birthday surprise in June. I tried to keep it quiet, but a neighbour across the road knew. She told me to come outside, and the next thing I know, the whole street was in the garage next door, waiting to wish me a happy birthday. We celebrated at the Clubhouse in the evening and I said to them, “I know that you all call me Gypsy Jean, and I do have a wonderful social life, but one day I might not be able to do all the things that I do now, in which case I will be here with you all, in the clubhouse and joining in all the activities.”
I’ve found as you get older, you value people and friendships a lot more. When you come into a place like a village, you’re never going to be alone. If you want company, you sit outside – if you don’t you go in and shut the door. Nobody interferes but you always know there’s someone next door or across the road. I don’t worry like I used to worry now I have that added security
It’s said that 70 is the new 50 and I have to say I’m loving life and all the freedom and the choices I have. I love being able to do whatever I like. I never sit around and worry about being 70. I don’t feel like I’m retired from anything – I’m very full of life and a very active person.
One of my fondest memories is from my 50th birthday. I went to a Barry Manilow concert and he chose me to go up on the stage and sing with him. We sang “Can’t Smile Without You” and because of my dancing background, people thought it was a fix. We sang and danced all around the stage and normally you’d get to be up there for a few minutes, but I got to do the whole lot. It was wonderful.
I’m originally from the UK and have a musical theatre background. My twin sister Janet and I used to have a double-act when we were younger. We were called The Davies Twins. I also belonged to another troupe called the Leroy Babes. I’m very excited because next year, I’m going back to the UK for a reunion. Facebook has allowed us to keep in touch with a lot of the dancers we danced with when we were younger. When we were around 15, we did a six-week summer season at the Pier Pavilion in Cleethorpes. It was our first professional stint and led to many wonderful things in our careers. Our late dance teacher’s stepdaughter went to visit the new owners, with a photo of us from that era, and for the reunion, they’re going to open the stage for us – 55 years after we first danced on it.
Janet and I still dance like crazy, we haven’t forgotten any of it.
Right now, I’m living life to the full. I have a busy social life that keeps me going with friends and acquaintances, and I get asked out a lot to dinners, lunches, things like that. I love driving too – I have three children and six grandchildren, all within driving distance. My aim is to keep active, keep enjoying myself, and keep helping everyone around me. When I first moved in to the village, I was apprehensive about fitting in, but I can truly say now that I absolutely love it here.
Find out more about Parkland Villas Ellenbrook.