My Cousin Irene and the Bee Gees

My cousin, Irene, loved my post: A Little Music and Movement Can Make You See Things Differently (June 6, 2017). In fact, she told me she occasionally watches the video I had added at the end, which is a Museum Workout at the NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art to the song “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. She loves the Bee Gees. Makes her want to get up and dance. And she has always loved to dance. She took dance lessons as a child.

She met both her husbands at a dance. When she lived in an independent living facility run by the Sisters of Saint Dominic, one of the nuns gave dance lessons twice a week. “Sister Denice had a life before she joined the sisterhood at 30,” Irene told me. Besides dance lessons, the facility held holiday dances with a live band. 

Irene recently moved to an assisted living facility because of mobility issues. She no longer dances but continues to watch the Museum Workout videoThe music makes her “dance in my head.”

When I talked with her a few days ago to wish her a belated happy 96th birthday, she suggested that I reblog that post. Truth be told, I had already reblogged the post under a new title: Time to Take a Break, June 16, 2020. It’s one of my feel-good posts. Music always takes me on a journey away from current reality. 

So, I’m reblogging A Little Music and Movement Can Make You See Things Differently yet again for for Irene. Watch the video. Get up and dance. Or if, like my cousin Irene, you can’t get up and move to the music, dance in your head.


A Little Music and Movement Can Make You See Things Differently

Originally posted on June 6, 2017

Yesterday, I went to the North Carolina Art Museum at 10 a.m. to move to music.

Two women led, followed by a man in a suit holding an open laptop channeling the songs that were mostly by the Bee Gees. The women, in sequined dresses and sneakers, stomped, marched, trotted in time with the music. Thirteen women and two men, ranging in age from 20 to 70 plus, followed behind, mimicking the women’s movements. We didn’t talk.

I felt exhilarated racing through the empty museum with music bouncing off the walls surrounded by other exuberant people. The moves were not stressful. I did most of them except balancing on one leg and I stopped halfway through the jumping jacks.

The group stopped intermittently in front of a piece of art: statue, still life, portrait, and continued to move/exercise in place. Short inspirational narratives, previously taped by Maira Kalman, punctuated the music. Normally, when I visit a museum, I would gaze at the art in quiet contemplation. This time my mind and body seemed as one, absorbing the stimuli transmitted from the environment, my thoughts suspended.

When the two women dropped to the floor, I felt as if someone turned off the lights. Lying among my fellow participants with arms and legs outstretched, I realized that fifty minutes had flown by.

Now the day after, the residual glow from yesterday remains with me.

My new goal is to have more days where I step out of the ordinary.

Thanks Monica Bill Barnes & Company!

Anna Bass,me,Monica Bell Barnes, Robbie Saenz de Viteri


The first performance The Museum Workout appeared at the NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Check out the video of the performance. 

photograph by loulex for the New Yorker

Madame X, meet Ladies in Sequined Dresses and Sneakers. For “The Museum Workout,” which starts a four-week run on Jan. 19, Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass, Everywoman dancers of deadpan zaniness, guide tours of the Metropolitan Museum of Art before public hours, leading light stretching and group exercises as they go. Recorded commentary by the illustrator Maira Kalman, who planned the route, mixes with Motown and disco tunes. Might raised heart rates and squeaking soles heighten perception?









Aging in place wasn’t in vogue when I first became a gerontological nurse practitioner in the early ‘80s. And my patients certainly didn’t know they were aging in place. Especially Helen. She called it waiting to die.

The Senior Clinic I worked in had just relocated from a one-bedroom apartment on the 10th floor to a larger two-bedroom on the fourteenth floor of a subsidized city-run building on the west side of Chicago. Helen was overjoyed to live in the apartment next door to us. She stopped in every day to say good morning and sometimes brought homemade sugar cookies or zucchini bread. She was in her 90s and in good health. When her hearing difficulty became worse, she would ask me to check her ears to see if they needed washing out. Otherwise, her visits were social.

If the clinic was quiet, Helen would sit by my desk and tell me about her life. Since she was thin and small, barely over five feet tall, I looked at her incredulously when she told me she had worked as a guard in a women’s prison. The next day she showed me her badge: Deputy Sheriff Cook Co. #93.

She had lost a husband many years ago and her one son visited infrequently. Her life had narrowed and became routine. Helen accepted the inevitability of death and was the first to teach me that old folks aren’t afraid to speak of dying. “I lived a good life,” Helen said, “I’m just ready to die.” I can still see her warm smile and dark eyes crinkle as she said these words.

In the blue-collar community where I worked, when you got old and feeble and family couldn’t take you in, you went to a nursing home. If you were terminally ill, you went to a hospital to die. Helen hoped to stay independent and avoid institutionalization but who knew then all the facets needed to meet that goal. I did what I could to keep my older patients as healthy as possible so they could care for themselves but I never thought then to set up a knitting group, coffee klatch or potluck dinners to address the epidemic of loneliness.

Today, a grass roots movement is growing among the elderly themselves to develop/provide/support services and programs that promote independent living. In fact, in my own neighborhood of 160 single-family homes, those of us who are over 55 had our first meeting last week to discuss aging in place. We have come a long way in understanding what it takes to keep us older folks in our own homes. Various models have popped up across the nation, which are not just reliant on health interventions to maintain independent function but also on new technologies that open and lock doors, monitor outdated food in refrigerators, and help in sorting laundry.

I wonder how all this would have made a difference in Helen’s life. One day she didn’t show up for her “good morning visit.” I knocked on her door. No answer. When the janitor let me into her apartment, I found her crumpled on the floor next to her sofa. The ambulance brought her to the hospital where she had a hip replacement. She died shortly afterwards of surgical complications.

A couple of weeks later, after he cleaned out his mother’s apartment, her son gave me her Sheriffs’ badge.

Helen's badge

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