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Performing through the pane: Fire twirlers and belly dancers delight aged care residents

Belly dancer Kaylah had a captive audience at her window. They cheered, clapped and, in some cases, danced along.

With a dangerous virus on the loose that is known to strike down the elderly with particular ferocity, aged care facilities have been forced to banish their usual in-home entertainment line-ups of musicians and magicians.

“We’re having to think outside the box, really outside,” said Anitta Macauley of Lifeview, which runs the home.

“But we’re trying to have even more fun. This idea was all about the visuals, something they could see even if they couldn’t hear it or [smell] the smoke. Now we can’t tear them away.”

With the arts industry hit hard by coronavirus shutdowns, Chris said his income had largely shrunk down to performing outside Lifeview’s aged care homes.

At first he was sceptical if a window show could work.

Lorraine Palmer and other Lifeview residents have enjoyed lockdown "window shows" including belly dancing by Kaylah.

Lorraine Palmer and other Lifeview residents have enjoyed lockdown “window shows” including belly dancing by Kaylah.Credit:Chris Hopkins

“I’m used to performing up close, and going off the reactions,” he said. “But I was surprised at how much connection there is through the glass.

“This wasn’t just any old crowd. I tried to give them that joy, just happiness and wonder.”

Lorraine said the show had lifted everyone’s spirits (“The best part was when he blew me a kiss”), but she wasn’t sure if belly dancing would make it into the home’s Friday night disco repertoire.

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“I’d love to dance like her, [but] I can’t work my hips like that,” she laughed.

Jim Johnston was not so shy: “I almost got up and joined in. Next time.”

But top marks for audience participation went to Maggie Goller, whose former life in showbusiness working for Molly Meldrum came flooding back.

“It was like we were there again, the glass didn’t even matter,” she said.

Keeping connected with loved ones through the pandemic has been hard at times for aged care residents, reduced to looking from behind windows or via iPad screens.

Lorraine Palmer shares a moment with fire performer Chris James.

Lorraine Palmer shares a moment with fire performer Chris James.Credit:Chris Hopkins

But most have adapted “remarkably well”, Ms Macauley said.

Some were now helping run trivia over Zoom and policing their own capacity limits on bingo nights.

Lifeview recently started allowing in one guest per resident for non-contact visits (a DIY “hugging station” involving a shower curtain and thick rubber gloves is also in development).

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Some residents have said no to any guests at all – even publicly chastising the Prime Minister’s call for homes to reopen.

“These are our house rules,” Anne Fairbairn said. “It keeps the germs out.”

But she admitted she might make an exception for “that nice pyro chap”. “There’s not many people who see that for nothing,” she said.

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