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Reflection in mirror of Mona and James practicing a ballet pose

Mona Learns to Dance Ballet

When Mona was eight years old, she went to see her grandmother sing on 2nd Avenue in Manhattan. The performance was a comedy with dancers on roller skates, and they picked Mona out of the crowd to be a part of the show. Together, the dancers held her arms and legs and twirled her around. They told her to pretend to pick up a penny off the ground, which would cause her to gently fall—much to the audience’s delight and laughter.

Mona loved the feeling of being suspended in the air, but she did not like falling. It was all part of the performance; the audience laughed with her, not at her. But Mona did not realize that.

Moments like that have a way of sticking with you—and even molding the path ahead of you. From that day forward, Mona was determined to become the kind of performer no one would laugh at: a dancer who was so confident and graceful she would never feel embarrassed.

Mona continually asked her father for dancing lessons throughout elementary school, but her family could not afford them. As time went on and she grew into an adult, Mona shifted her focus to marriage, raising her two children, and building her career as a teacher. But the seed had been planted—it would just take some time for it to sprout.

Mona poses in white lace ballet costume
Close up of Monas feet in ballet shoes
Mona poses on the ballet barre

After a fulfilling career in education, Mona retired from her role on the NYC Board of Education in 2001. It allowed a new phase of her life to begin. She finally had the means and time to dance! She and her husband discovered a local class in Staten Island and started ballroom dancing—and they loved it!

After 23 years of marriage, Mona lost her dance partner. “It was like someone pulled the ground out from underneath from me,” she said. She knew she had to find purpose and fight feelings of isolation by turning to the things that gave her joy.

Mona focused on teaching and even found solace in being a student again. And when the pandemic changed the nature of her favorite activities, Mona took virtual classes, including acting, theater, writing plays, ballroom dancing, line dancing, and more. In addition to volunteering, Mona now teaches virtual Improv theater classes, is an active member in the Center for Lifelong Development (CLLD), and is currently the president of her local Toastmasters chapter.

She also joined the AARP’s advocacy team as a volunteer. Mona passionately fights against age discrimination by showing others that older adults can still live active lives, pursue their interests, and achieve great goals.

Mona is so passionate about the cause. “Seniors, given the chance and the right help, can do anything,” she explains.

Mona and dance instructor practice a move
Mona and dance instructor practice in front of mirror

But at age 80, there was one dream Mona had yet to return to—and one thing she had trouble doing. She had never forgotten the feeling of being twirled in the air. But this time, she wanted to do it gracefully. As hard as she looked, she could not find a school that would enroll her in beginner ballet classes at her age.

Wish of a Lifetime was honored to help Mona find the right teacher and make her wish come true. We introduced her to ballet instructor James, who taught Mona the basics of being a ballerina.

“At my age, I am blessed to be dancing and be able to be dancing because it is keeping my body younger,” she said. And throughout her training, Mona felt herself growing stronger, both physically and emotionally.

“Spiritually, that’s what this was all about. My spirit needed to affirm that I am a graceful, capable, and talented person,” she said. “I don’t know if you could see the joy in my face— I get a thrill every time!”

Mona hopes her ballet performance will inspire others to pursue their dreams. Sometimes, it just takes finding the right help to get there.

Mona puts it best: “If you can just get an older adult to understand that they can accomplish their dreams… they will!”

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