Maestro develops noteworthy exercise routine for seniors

Having studied at Juilliard, then performed in and conducted orchestras for almost 60 years, David Dworkin’s life has revolved around music. It still does, though Dworkin keeps trying to get others to do the revolving.

And kicking. And jumping. And swinging their arms. Just about any kind of movement at all will do.

“Whatever you do is correct,” Dworkin tells a group of women recently at BREC’s Greenwood Park. “Follow me, but whatever you do is correct.”

Dworkin, 79, visited Louisiana to promote Conductorcise, an exercise program he developed 10 years ago as he was winding down his career. He wanted people to remain — or become — active, especially as they age, and promoting music in the process was a bonus. In Conductorcise, Dworkin leads groups who imagine themselves conducting high-energy, classical music, though with considerably more movement than most conductors use before an orchestra.

You probably don’t remember seeing any infomercials.

“In the very, very beginning, I thought I’d be another Jane Fonda,” Dworkin says. “I made videos, and I’d sell them and retire to my private island, but that did not work.”

But, after Dworkin spoke to the International Council on Active Aging conference in 2008, directors of facilities and outreach organizations for seniors started inviting him to share it with their groups. Peoples Health brought him to New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

The silver-haired Dworkin is a dynamo when the music comes on. He distributes batons — chopsticks, actually — to those who show up, but that prop isn’t really necessary. If it’s Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” Dworkin gets groups marching and waving their arms. If the song has a nautical theme, he gets people to imagine themselves rowing a boat, pulling an anchor rope, climbing a mast — again, anything to get them using their muscles. Along the way, he shares information about the music playing.

“The British naval officer called Captain John Cook in the 1700s, when he left port, he always had a fiddle player and some kind of piper to keep the sailors happy while they did their chores,” Dworkin tells his Greenwood Park class.

“Are you exercising? I do believe in regimented exercise, too, if that’s your choice. Your choice. Go to a gym, get on a treadmill or elliptical, some resistance training, all work. … You’ve got to be active. Baby steps every day. A little movement and a little brain stimulation,” he says. “We are aging differently, folks. We’re in a new world.”

Zipping back and forth across the stage, Dworkin breaks a sweat leading the session. His first-time students didn’t, but that’s OK. Baby steps.

“He made it fun with the music and the chopsticks,” says Lorraine Sibley, 64, of Baton Rouge. “He made it fun, the music and the movements.”

“It’s energizing,” Dworkin says. “It’s meaningful. It’s not just a ha-ha, fun Band-Aid. The physical part is obvious: you move. You are going to raise your pulse rate and all that. But it’s all that information I feed them, which they don’t have to necessarily remember. But when I’m reading it, their brain is being stimulated. It is new material, and anytime you do something new, brain cells are created.”

Susan Guidroz, community relations manager for Peoples Health, says her organization will assess the reactions of people who attended the sessions and decide whether to introduce Conductorcise to its network facilities.