Exercise helps mind, heart, body and soul
When she was 58 years old, Gina Wexler weighed 241 pounds. An over-the-top balletomane and self-proclaimed Rudolf Nureyev groupie for some 20 years, she decided she was going to learn to dance. She studied with Gabriella Davarsh and Jack Hertzog, both at Broadway Dance, in New York City. But it wasn’t easy. Nobody took her seriously as a student. She tore her Achilles tendon in her second class. But her idol, Nureyev, told her, “If you want to dance, you dance and you let them laugh.” And dance she did.
Three years later, Wexler was a size four. She didn’t weigh herself then; she just looked in the mirror and said, “You’re hot.” And she hasn’t weighed herself since. Now 79, she is as crazy about the art form as ever — and is a committed ballet teacher, specializing in adults and seniors.
“I don’t teach the way I was taught,” she says. “I teach the way I learned.”
For starters, she locks out the ballet police.
“We don’t allow them in the building,” Wexler says. “My students aren’t here to become dancers; they are here to enjoy!”
She believes in visual instructions that give students something they can “see.” For brush the foot forward, by example, she will explain, “Kick the rock away.” Tendu-fondu is “tip your toe into the chocolate and feed the dwarf.” She is a master of encouragement and “atta girls” and a passionate believer that “you can make a mistake and still be pretty.”
Wexler believes that many mature women simply don’t like the gym, and find it overly loud and purposeful.
“With ballet, they can relax more and accomplish the same goals,” she says. “Most adults think they can’t learn it, but if you can count to eight, you can do my class.”
Her students make the point dramatically. Regulars in her senior class include a woman who has had three total-hip replacements.
Another suffered a ruptured aneurysm a few years back. Gina reports that student “didn’t know up from down or left from right and wasn’t expected to live.” Today, that same student takes classes three times a week — when she’s not traveling. This is not to suggest that ballet class is some kind of miracle cure but to make the point that it is far more accessible than most adults imagine.
For Wexler, dance was a natural choice because she comes from a theatrical family. It includes (many generations ago) one Emmanuel Schikaneder who wrote the libretto for Mozart’s “Magic Flute.” Wexler’s grandmother danced in the same companies as Pavlova and Nijinsky. Both her parents were dancers with the Michael Mordkin Troupe, the predecessor of today’s American Ballet Theatre. And her father, Eddie Brinkman, afterwards became one of the founding talents at CBS, working as stage manager and finding talent for “The Ed Sullivan” show.
Wexler moved to Sarasota and started teaching here in 1996. She made the one professional appearance of her career with the Sarasota Ballet of Florida, in the character part of the midwife in “Zal and Rudabeh.” She is known locally and affectionately as “Gina ballerina.” And the years have only increased her enthusiasm for her favorite art form that she believes is “exercise for the mind, heart and soul, as well as for the body.”
Molly Schechter is an ACE-certified personal trainer, with a specialty in older adult fitness plus YogaFit Instructor Training and Power Pilates™ Mat Certifications. She teaches classes at the Bayfront Park Recreation Center and the Longboat Key Club. E-mail her at email@example.com.
IF YOU GO
ADULT AND SENIOR BALLET CLASSES IN SARASOTA
- Gina Ballerina at Zero Gravity
55 South Palm Ave.
Cost is $12 per class. Call 953-4139 for more information.
Seniors M,W,F 11 a.m. to noon
Adult T,Th 7 to 8:15 PM
Sat. 3:15 to 4:30 PM
Floor Barre Sat. 2:30 to 3:15 PM
- Sarasota Ballet of Florida
FSU Center for the Arts
5555 N. Tamiami Trail
Cost is $15 per class. Call 359-0099, Ext. 120 for more information.
Adult M,W 6 to 7:30 PM
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