The Merion’s Senior Wildcats Cheerleading in Their 80s

In the past, Leigh Bailey would exercise by lacing up her shoes and running miles in hopes of winning the gold as she crossed the marathon finish line. This year, the 83-year-old found herself exercising in a new way, by grabbing her pompoms and joining the popular Senior Wildcat Dance Team at The Merion senior living community.  

The group has been performing with the Northwestern University (NU) cheerleaders since 2016. Every year, they showcase their talents and dance moves in front of a large crowd during one of the popular men’s basketball games.

There are no tryouts. No requirements. For this group of Evanston, IL, residents, it’s all about the health benefits, intergenerational interactions, and the pleasure they experience by shaking those pompoms. 

“When I first heard about the group, I couldn’t believe it was a real thing,” Bailey said, chuckling. “But it’s been so much fun to join in and get to know the other residents.” 

Senior Wildcat Barbara Gerrish said this dance class has been a dream come true. “I tried out for my high school cheerleading team but was cut before I could start. None of us take this too seriously; it’s just for fun. I don’t feel like everything has to be perfect, which makes the whole thing that much more enjoyable.” 

The NU cheerleaders meet with the seniors at The Merion to teach the dance moves. This year, they spent two weeks rehearsing before taking to the court on February 2. Together, each generation learns from one another and shares stories.  

“The cheerleaders are wonderful,” said Gerrish. “There’s so much discussion nowadays about young people not being polite. This group of young ladies are respectable and caring young people.”

The dance group is so unique that it caught the attention of CBS Chicago and WBBM- newsradio, which both did stories on the Senior Wildcat Dance Team. 

The Merion Promotes a Healthy Lifestyle With Unique Programming

The Senior Wildcat Dance Team showcases the health benefits of dancing for seniors. In fact, these classes are one of many physical activities offered at the active senior living community. From Pilates to Zumba to meditation, these activities are designed to keep the independent living residents engaged and have been shown to improve the quality of life for older adults.

The key health benefits these classes promote for seniors include: 

  • Improving balance and flexibility
  • Strengthening muscles
  • Promoting heart and cardiovascular health
  • Building positive mental health
  • Reducing hypertension
  • Improving social connectivity
  • Reducing stress
  • Helping seniors maintain focus
  • Increasing energy levels

The Merion is also a member of Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), Northwestern’s senior education program. The lifelong learners are engaged in a wide range of academic programming and personal development that goes beyond the classroom and The Merion’s gym. 

“There’s never a dull moment living at The Merion,” Gerrish said. “I always have some activity to enjoy or someone to meet for lunch in our dining room. It’s just wonderful.” 

Residents are encouraged to stay involved and as active as they want to be. For Leigh Bailey, that includes teaching yoga classes at the community when she’s not cheering on NU in a basketball game. 

“As you get older, you learn to let go of judgments. You learn to just have fun in life. The Merion allows us to do that,” she said. 

Independent Living Communities Like The Merion Can Help You Stay Active

The Merion, in downtown Evanston, is filled with on-site opportunities and classes that allow residents to socialize with neighbors and their friends anytime they like. Residents choose what interests them, and they can do as much or as little as they like. 

The Merion residents involved in the Senior Wildcat Dance Team are enjoying the twilight years of their lives. What’s holding you back from joining them? Come and learn more about the independent lifestyle, activities and fitness programming at The Merion. 

Contact us or RSVP for any of our upcoming events to learn more.