Creative Aging with SU-CASA

Carolyn Walston (third from left), along with her fellow Stuyvesant All Stars, performed Afro-Caribbean dances and drumming at the Stuyvesant Gardens Senior Club’s Juneteenth Festival.

Seventy-two-year-old Carolyn Walston had never before played drums when, in March 2022, she heard about a new Afro-Caribbean dance and drumming class at RiseBoro’s Stuyvesant Gardens Senior Club. At first, she thought the idea of picking up a new instrument at her age was “kind of stupid,” but after receiving a lot of encouragement from the new instructor, she decided to give it her best. The results surprised her.

“I really loved playing the drums, and I wanted to be here every time the drums came out” Walston said. “I didn’t miss one class. I don’t think I’m the best, but I learned a lot from it, and I feel really good about that.”

The classes were organized by Persephone DaCosta, founder and artistic director of Batingua Arts Dance and Drum Productions and Stuyvesant Gardens’ latest artist-in-residence, a position funded by New York City’s SU-CASA program. SU-CASA places locally minded working artists in senior centers and clubs across the city to design and lead engaging creative classes for older adults. Each class culminates in a public event where students can showcase the results of their creative work.

DaCosta’s classes wrapped up with a Juneteenth Festival in the club’s back garden on Wednesday, June 29. Walston and her fellow students, known as the Stuyvesant All Stars, danced, drummed, sang, and performed skits about love, friendship, and finding yourself. Each took a turn dancing solo before the energized, cheering crowd, and spoke about what the classes had meant to them. Walston drummed with confidence and ease, sometimes standing to put her entire body into each strike.

“Nobody plays drums like that,” she said, pointing at her fellow All Stars. “We thought we were superstars.”

Creativity is essential to healthy aging. Community-based artistic and cultural classes taught by professional artists have been shown to improve overall health and wellbeing and foster more social connections and engagement in older adults. Stuyvesant Gardens has previously hosted two other artist residencies focused on painting and choral music.

For current information on arts programs at Stuyvesant Gardens Senior Club, contact Denise Emery at [email protected] or 347.318.3313.