When we say ParkLives is for people of all ages and abilities, we really mean it. Joyce Belton, an 82-year-old great grandmother from London, has become a minor celebrity at her local Zumba class, and now she’s showing MPs how it’s done too!
It all started after Joyce’s husband passed away eight years ago. She found herself alone in her apartment in Plaistow, east London. Back in the day, they would enjoy line dancing together, and the time would fly past. Now, she relies on her local leisure centre to help her get out the house and meet new people.
“I’ve been doing Zumba for five years,” says Joyce, who's taking a well-deserved break from an outdoor Zumba class outside the Houses of Parliament, during a particularly special ParkLives session.
Joyce has two sons, four grandchildren and six great grandchildren. But, despite a large and loving family, she admits that they’ve yet to join her on the dance floor.
“They get embarrassed, and cringe,” she laughs. There’s a certain confidence and resilience that runs through Joyce, qualities one might say that come with age and experience.
One day at her local community centre she was introduced to Pam Rene, known as Salsa Pam, who runs a series of free dance classes, delivered through the local council and ParkLives from Coca-Cola GB. That’s where she met Cuban-born fitness instructor David, who also teaches Zumba.
“I do Zumba classes with David twice a week,” she explains. “I just love to dance – any dance – and I love the music he plays. It keeps me busy, so I don’t have time to think about all my aches and pains.”
Joyce opens up about the need to keep active at her age, and how doing Zumba keeps her going. “It keeps me young. I tried Tai Chi but wasn’t a fan, it’s too slow for me. I like the fast music that makes you move!”
And it’s not just the physical benefits of Zumba that Joyce enjoys, it’s the social element too. Each class has up to 50 people, from as young as 13 up to Joyce’s age, and each session lasts roughly an hour. “I’ve made all sorts of friends through Zumba, they all know me down there.”
This is validated by David, who attributes the popularity of his classes to Joyce: “She’s a great source of inspiration, not only to me, but to all the boys and girls in the group. It’s seeing an 82-year-old woman doing Zumba that keeps me and everyone else going. She’s amazing!”
Despite her zest for Zumba, Joyce still finds time to squeeze in a bit of line dancing here and there, and aerobics twice a week. Her ambition to keep fit and young at heart, along with the availability of free activity sessions, has helped her overcome loneliness, social isolation and physical inactivity, demonstrating how something as simple as free Zumba classes can really help improve the wellbeing of local communities.
Before Joyce bounces into another Zumba session on what turns out to be the hottest day of the year (her stamina puts me and all the MPs there to shame), I ask her what advice she has for other people like her who might need a little help taking the first step outside the house?
“Just get out and do it. Join a club like ParkLives. Do anything and get out the house. Sit inside and you only have yourself to blame, so you might as well go out and about, and not think about it.” With words (and moves) like that, Parliament could learn a lot from someone like Joyce.
Find out more about our free, outdoor activity sessions at Parklives.com