A lifelong teacher of dance and physical education returns to being a fitness student, and in the process teaches her instructors how to live life to the fullest.

At 73, Jean Lahey couldn’t decide what to do next to keep her mind sharp and body fit. As a lifelong teacher, she could either return to the role of student by taking a college course, or try initial training for Les Mills’ BODYFLOW®. She opted for the latter. “I decided to try it because Les Mills has a good reputation,” she explains. “I was looking for a new challenge and new experience.”

Stepping back into the role of student made her both excited and nervous. Knowing hip replacement was on the horizon, her goal was not to earn full certification, but rather to experience a Les Mills initial training and expand her knowledge base. Her many years of dance and fitness helped her feel confident about learning the choreography required for the training. “My approach was to learn the track as a dance routine to be performed on stage,” she explains.

Physical fitness has always been a central part of Lahey’s life. She’s been a dancer, choreographer, and physical education teacher. She added group fitness instructor to her resume in her 70s when she earned a Tai Chi certification. “My father was a master in Tai Chi Chuan. He was a strong influence in returning to Tai Chi. I was always surrounded with it,” says Lahey. “I wanted to rearrange my fitness program and get back to my roots. I started to teach Tai Chi because I realized how much it has helped me mentally and emotionally to focus on balance, core strength, relaxation, meditation, and better sleep patterns.”

Lahey was born in Chicago, Illinois. Within her first 10 years of life, her father’s work as a diplomat moved her family to Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Lahey lived in Taiwan from ages 10 to 20, which is where she became serious about Chinese Dance. She started teaching and choreographing at an early age.

“During that time I got to perform and choreograph weekly television shows,” says Lahey. “I always loved to dance and it allowed me to express my creativity and teach movement to students who shared my passion. It also kept me mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy.”

Lahey returned to the United States as a college student. She graduated with a master’s degree plus 60 credits in education, specializing in physical education. For the next 33 years she taught physical education to elementary students on Long Island, NY.

“Teaching children brought me a lot of joy,” she remembers. “They’re open minded, pure, and love to move and play.” She took extra care with the children who didn’t initially like gym class. “My approach to teaching the non-athletic child was to give them plenty of attention, kindness, encouragement, praise, and compassion at any effort they made to move. I taught them they deserve to feel good when they move and to have fun too!”

While teaching school, Lahey continued to train and perform in various dance styles, including jazz and Graham technique (based on the ideas of dance pioneer Martha Graham). “I founded a Chinese Dance Company, became the director of The Protégée Ensemble, and was the Associate Director of [dance and fitness school] the Dany Holdstein Dance Company,” she says. “Dance for children and adults provided an outlet to experience the pleasures of movement. It is a wonderful discipline that can enhance confidence and a good sense of accomplishment.”

The most worrisome part of attending BODYFLOW training for Lahey was whether she’d have the stamina to perform her assigned track in initial training. She was assigned one of the most physically difficult tracks – Core Back. As her trainer, I can attest that she nailed it and met her goal of passing initial training.

While Lahey attended as a student, she ended up teaching the entire group many valuable lessons. Les Mills Instructor Jessica Griffin says Lahey showed her what is possible in fitness and life. “She truly inspired the rest of us and showed us age is not a factor,” says Griffin. “We are all capable, even as senior citizens, to continue our growth, knowledge, and learning.”

Whether in the role of student or teacher, Lahey is a living example of humility and wisdom. “I am humbled and happy when I see people I have taught doing well, feeling good, and having gained confidence in moving more.” Lahey feels learning is something to be continued throughout one’s lifetime. She encourages others to return to the role of student often to gain knowledge and to appreciate the student perspective. “As a teacher, you have a powerful platform to be very influential in people's lives.”

Images of Jean Lahey taken by Bill Hebson

Carrie Knight is a BODYBALANCE/BODYFLOW Trainer and a BODYBALANCE/BODYFLOW and CXWORX Assessor Lead for Les Mills in the United States. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison with degrees in Broadcast Journalism and Political Science. Her background includes being a TV news anchor, radio talk show host, fitness writer, and recording voice overs. Carrie is thrilled to combine her love for fitness and journalism by writing for Fit Planet.

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