Thursday, July 19, 2012

Instructor has all the right moves


LIVING LIFE TO ITS FULLEST—Dedicated Thousand Oaks volunteer Bhojo Shahani, a native of India, dances with Winny Rapmund during their ballroom dancing class at Goebel Senior Adult Center on July 11. 
RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers LIVING LIFE TO ITS FULLEST—Dedicated Thousand Oaks volunteer Bhojo Shahani, a native of India, dances with Winny Rapmund during their ballroom dancing class at Goebel Senior Adult Center on July 11.RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn NewspapersBy Dashiell Young-Saver
Using their physical abilities, dancers must blend timing, motion and flair into one seamless performance.
At the age of 87, Bhojo Shahani does his own unique dance, blending his background in yoga, meditation and ballroom dancing to teach dance courses to seniors.
Shahani teaches two weekly dance courses through the Thousand Oaks Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), a group he’s given nearly 4,000 hours to over the course of the last 20 years of volunteering.
“Bhojo tries to positively impact the lives of seniors through his teachings and personal interactions,” said Cindy Powers, RSVP director.

Shahani, a resident of Thousand Oaks for 22 years, was one of the first volunteers Powers met when she came to RSVP nine years ago.
“Bhojo truly enjoys his interactions with people of all ages, (and) he seeks out opportunities to serve,” she said.
In recognition of his abundant volunteer work, Shahani has received the President’s Award for Service and volunteer pins from both Senior Concerns and the Goebel Senior Adult Center. He was also named Thousand Oaks Council on Aging’s Senior of the Year in 1995.
“The best award is the one of gratitude I receive from all the students at the senior centers,” Shahani said.
On Mondays, Shahani teaches chair dancing at the Senior Concerns Day Center to adults with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other medical issues. On Wednesdays he and dance partner Winnie Rapmund teach a ballroom dancing class at the Goebel Center.
“In dancing, breathing is the most important factor, and then posture,” Shahani said. “You must also have an attitude of love and respect for your partner, having a spirit of communion.”
Incredible journey
Shahani grew up in Hyderabad, India, entering the law profession at age 21. In 1947, when Muslims declared their independence and formed the nation of Pakistan, his Hindu family was forced, at gunpoint, to leave the area. They relocated to Mumbai, where Shahani lived until 1990, eventually becoming an advocate for the city’s highest court.
Shahani married twice and had four children. He and his first wife liked to take ballroom dance classes. They trained at a British school of dance at the Indian National Sports Club, where Shahani achieved a gold ballroom dance ranking.
His first wife died of meningitis in 1962.
Shahani also studied yoga and meditation at the Open International University of Complementary Medicine in Sri Lanka, earning a medical doctorate and doctorate of sciences.
In 1970 he began teaching these alternative medicine techniques to chemical plant workers, housewives and high school students, volunteering his time. He also became a leading volunteer at Divine Life Society clinics.
“I must never desire to take any money for my healing work,” he said. “I must heal myself before I can heal others. The only way you can do that is if you don’t charge anything.”
His youngest son, then 11, urged Shahani to move to the United States. Shahani’s brother already lived in the U.S. and could sponsor his journey.
“In (Mumbai), which is an international city like New York and Paris, America was always considered to be the richest country, with maximum opportunities and maximum freedom,” Shahani said. “So, it’s the (promise of) liberty and the future that brought us here.”
By 1990, Shahani was able to receive a green card. He immigrated to the United States, settling in Thousand Oaks.
Not being able to continue in law, he took any paying jobs he could find, including a nightshift security guard position at an Erbes housing complex, a crossing guard position at Lang Ranch Elementary School and a position as a Learning Tree University faculty member for complementary medicine.
Sharing the dance
Within the first month of arriving here, Shahani sought out volunteering opportunities with RSVP. One year later, he started his ballroom dance class at the Goebel Senior Adult Center. The year after that, he began the class at Senior Concerns.
In both courses, he emphasizes the principles practiced in yoga and meditation.
“We define yoga as a path of communion with cosmic consciousness,” Shahani said. “By breathing correctly and having the correct posture . . . you are practicing yoga.”
Every week, about 40 to 50 seniors attend Shahani’s classes.
“He’s got quite a following,” said Mike McAdam, recreation coordinator for the Goebel Senior Adult Center. “His students love him.”
Most of his students are seniors but occasionally a younger couple will ask Shahani to teach them some ballroom dance steps for their wedding day.
“It is absolutely wonderful to see young couples . . . dance together because, if they can stay together (on the dance floor), you know that their love is true and that they will stay together forever,” he said.
In 2008, Shahani found a dance partner in Winny Rapmund, an 83-year-old resident of Camarillo. They met at a dance at the Leisure Village senior community in Camarillo.
“(Bhojo) is a very good dance partner,” Rapmund said. “He is sturdy and knows what he is doing. Plus, he wants to teach anybody and everybody to dance.”
Shahani feels that dance and yoga instruction needs to be personal to be effective.
“No one can teach you yoga or dance, but someone can share it,” Shahani said.
“He’s very patient with his students,” McAdam said. “He adapts his dance lessons to the skill set of whoever comes in and works with them.”
Shahani does not intend to stop volunteering and he encourages seniors to stay active.
“For seniors, now is the most important time because we are experiencing the eternal continuum of time—there is no beginning, there is no end,” he said.
“We must take it one day at a time…because yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never be mine.”


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