By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Region – Northborough resident Gypsy Phillips recently turned 75, but she has no plans to retire from performing and teaching belly dance. She began studying belly dance at age 36 after the birth of her last child.
“I needed something to get back into exercise,” she explained. “What better way to exercise every part of your body than belly dance?”
She has been instructing for over 35 years at various locations including several senior centers, currently in Northborough and Shrewsbury.
“Once they get hooked, they keep coming back and get in better shape,” she said of her students at senior centers. “Learning choreography helps improve their memory because you have to remember what comes next. And I think the sisterhood among us is important, too. We laugh all through the class. Then afterward, we go out to lunch together.”
Phillips decided six years ago to expand her Gypsy Moon Dance Company by recruiting some of her students from senior centers to form the Silver Moon Gypsies. Ranging in age from 58 to 80, the troupe of eight women are from seven communities including Northborough, Shrewsbury, Southborough and Westborough.
Among the venues where they perform are the Coleman House in Northborough; Whitney Place Assisted Living Residences at Natick, Northborough and Westborough; and several other senior facilities from Weston to Worcester.
“We bring excitement to people who can's get around anymore,” Phillips said. “We sit and talk with them, too.”
Elaine Savoy, 70, brings her professional stage experience to the troupe.
“I worked my way through college being a showgirl in New York,” she relayed. “Oddly enough, one of the shows had a belly-dancing number and we wore long skirts with all the coins. Who would have guessed that now, at my age, I's still be dancing like
Throughout the years, they'se enjoyed collecting a vast wardrobe of costumes, Savoy noted.
“It's fun to dress up in glitter and sparkles as you get older – the things you thought you were too old to do,” she said.
The troupe's eldest dancer is Norma Giumentaro.
“Being 80 years young, most people my age have a few aches and pains, but I forget them all when I belly dance,” she said. “It makes me feel good that I can still do these things.”
Belly dancing is also a healthy outlet for Anna Connors, 59, a former marathon runner who was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2006. When she had a chance meeting with Phillips at a thrift store, they casually discussed the weekly dance class at the Shrewsbury Senior Center.
“I stopped in and saw these ladies dancing,” Connors recalled. “I saw they were having so much fun. I thought I's try belly
dancing for a little while, but I probably wouldn's be able to do it. With my type of MS, I have a lot of pain. But when I dance, I's having so much fun that it goes away. They all took me in, so I's still here.”
The motto of the Gypsy Moon Dance Company is “Belly dancing and beyond.” Each of the Silver Moon Gypsies appreciates that sentiment.
“Never dwell on the things you can's do; be happy with the things that you can,” Connors said. “I think we all embody that and project it to people, especially in the nursing homes.”
In addition to the senior centers, Phillips instructs belly dance at St. Stephen's Church in Westborough and Assabet After Dark, the continuing education program at Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School in Marlborough.
“I'sl keep going as long as I can,” she said.
Photos/Ed Karvoski Jr.