Bruce Van Horn had been teaching yoga to older students for some time, but he felt he wasn’t quite reaching them. “I needed something more passionate, something that appealed to them emotionally,” he explains, “but I thought teaching them to breathe and quiet their minds was important, too.” Drawing on his experience playing Gypsy Kings music and taking lessons in flamenco dance, he began to experiment, and “Yomenco” was born.
Now, a year later, Van Horn teaches his yoga and flamenco hybrid in more than 30 nursing homes in New York and New Jersey. He hands out egg shakers and maracas, cranks up the flamenco, and leads seniors in a routine that incorporates structured exercises for hands and feet—including mudras, leg lifts, and arm lifts. As it happens, a 2003 study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that structured dance is the most effective form of exercise for slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
“I was a little skeptical at first,” says Jacqueline Dealca, program director of Hearthstone Alzheimer Care in White Plains, New York, “but he really gets them going—from the lower functioning patients to the higher functioning.” Dealca also says the patients are more energized and aware throughout the day.
For Van Horn, who lost his father to Alzheimer’s, Yomenco is not just a pleasure; it’s a necessity. “If we want to have a happy old age,” he says, “we have to start to move.”