Gatsby – A Theme Day

The Burger Centre, a day centre for elderly people, runs two concurrent programs:– “Aviv” (a spring or fountain) provides a day program suitable for frail-aged with no cognitive impairment or with only mild memory loss.

“Kinneret” (a lake) runs a program for people living with moderate levels of dementia. However Aviv and Kinneret endeavour to run similar activities – the size of group is the major difference (40-50 in Aviv, 15-20 in Kinneret). Both groups come together in one big room for concerts.

The staff planned that one of our major theme days for 2013 should be on the theme of The Great Gatsby. Our first step in planning was to factor-in that as most of our clients were immigrants whose memories of the 1920s was weighted toward a European experience rather than that of prohibition and gangsters in the US/Australia.
While acknowledging that most of our clients would still be too young to remember the era themselves there was good potential for:

  • reminiscence,
  • reinvigoration of the exercise program
  • reinvigoration of craft program with specific projects relating to the theme.
  • socialisation amongst clients.

Key inspirations revolved around extravagance, feather boas, bugle beads, cocktails, jazz, Charleston, negro influences, Erté magazine, Chaplin, Loise Brooks, Clara Bow, The Sheik of Araby (Rudolf Valentino), Charles Aznavor, Maurice Chevalier, Josephine Baker and writers – F scott Fitzgerald, Anita Loos (Gentleman Prefer Blondes), Gertrude Stein’s Paris Salon and the members of The Algonquin Round Table.

DTs discussed the approach of the Gatsby Day with clients: images of original 1920s photos from the internet were put up around the centre to inspire interest and help suggest hairstyles and fashion.

In Aviv, I put together craft kits for making flapper hairbands and invited the ladies to make their own headbands for the day. A number of people joined the craft group for the first time to engage in this project, as well as our reglars who painted and decorated images from the French ‘Erte’ magazine. I also enlisted the help of one of our volunteers (an ex-watchmaker) to assist a gentleman who undertook a series of pictures of vintage cars and motorbikes constructed from watch parts.

The exercise program practiced the essentials of the Charleston as the basis for its movements. the steps and hand movements of the Charleston offer a unique set of co-ordination challenges utilising cross body movements. Those who felt able to do so could choose to stand behind their chair and so add balance challenges to the movements. Emphasis was on slow and controlled execution.

We used all the above: artwork from clients, pictures from internet, as well as purple satin swagging in each dining room of both Aviv and Kinneret, an assemblage of (plastic) cocktail glasses with a cascade of ‘pearls’ atop the grand piano and Art Deco ‘mirrors’ made from black card and mirrored cellophane.
Centrepieces, made from polystyrene balls covered in crepe paper and finished with a band of Peacock feathers, craft ribbon and ‘bling’, sat in plastic cocktail glasses on the lunch tables.


10:00 am
Arrival and High Tea served

11:00 am
Exercises – The Charleston

11:30 am
Entertainment and dancing with small Jazz group
featuring 1920’s music. (Aviv and Kinneret together)

12:30 pm

1:30 pm
“The Roaring 20s” – Historical background and
Reminiscence: DT research (as previously mentioned)
was used to compare the 1920s between Australia,
England and Europe.

2:00 pm
Buses leave for home.

The ladies involved in creating the headbands agreed that we should take the opportunity for an inter-generational activity by inviting a local highschool to accept a donation of our headbands to their drama department.

The client feedback was overwhelmingly positive: that it was a fun day. The best program results came from increased numbers in craft and the development of positive dynamics in small groups who worked together and in the larger group as a whole.

Some clients who had not been previously active in exercises joined in enthusiastically for the Charleston. Further inquiry needs to be done as to whether this is due to the increased challenges offered or the fact that they were dance steps. It must also be noted that other clients struggled with the coordination challenges.

Few were old enough to remember the 1920s themselves but many remembered their parents dressed to go out.
Those that were old enough to remember the 20s had mixed feelings about it – one man remembered post-war shortages in Europe and, in Australia, another client recalled the tension around the dawn of unionisation and industrial action. Most however enjoyed recalling the advent of radio, the music and film-stars of the period.

While most of the clients were too young to relive a meaningful experience of the era (in the way that a day celebrating the 1950s might), we received very positive feedback on the atmosphere and activities employed for the theme. It seems that they agreed that the 1920’s was fun!

Submitted by: Annie Kingsbury.

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