Eileen Kramer plans to dance on her 103rd birthday

Eileen Kramer plans to dance on her 103rd birthday

Eileen Kramer is settled on a couch next to Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt. The pair have met to discuss Ms Kramer's role with the Arts Health Institute, a national social enterprise and charity that supports Australian elders and their families in achieving a life that is meaningful, socially connected, creative and dignified. Mr Wyatt talks about a photograph he's seen of a young Ms Kramer in a copy of her book.

"There's this photograph of Eileen as a dancer," Mr Wyatt says,

Eileen Kramer doesn't like to use the word "old".

Eileen Kramer doesn't like to use the word "old". Credit:Karleen Minney

"You've got this very agile, stunning, young woman dancing in a theatre, performing on the stage …"

Ms Kramer cuts him off.


"I'm still that woman, I'm still a performer," she says.

At 102, Ms Kramer is indeed still all those things. While her mobility may be limited, her spirit still runs wild, she's making sure The Canberra Times photographer is still shooting while she's dancing for our photograph. She knows the message she needs to get across, on and off the stage. And she's planning a major performance for her 103rd birthday on November 8.

She's created A Buddha's Wife, a dance drama inspired by her travels in India. She travelled there in the 1960s, before heading to Europe where she immersed herself in the art of the mid-century, before settling in the United States. She came back to Australia when she was 99, because she missed the kookaburras.

The deeply personal dance work is part of The Now Project, co-produced by choreographer and dancer and film-maker Sue Healy, that will bring together 10 dancers to celebrate Ms Kramer's life.

The Arts Health Institute has set up a crowd-funding page to fund the performance. AHI chief executive officer Dr Maggie Haertsch said they were hoping to raise $32,000 to fund the performance.

"At nearly 103, Eileen embodies our motto of 'the art and science of living well'," said Dr Haertsch.

"We're encouraging all Australians who care about quality of life for our older generation to visit our crowdfunding page, make a donation, and help Eileen's dream become a reality."

Eileen Kramer met with Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt at Parliament House.

Eileen Kramer met with Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt at Parliament House. Credit:Karleen Minney

Ms Kramer was a member of the Bodenwieser Ballet, the first modern dance company in Australia. She first danced in Canberra in 1945, "in a church hall somewhere", she says, "none of these grand buildings were around then".

She doesn't like to use the word "old" … "I like to say I've been here a long time", she says.

Mr Wyatt said he was inspired by Ms Kramer's continued passion for the arts.

"Eileen's work exemplifies the best of ageing," he says.

"I see programs like this as an important part of helping redefine ageing and aged care."

Since 2011, the AHI has been creating and implementing ground-breaking programs and experiences that are helping thousands of Australians to live well as their years advance. "The arts define our human condition," Dr Haertsch says.

"They tell the story of our lives, make us laugh and cry, give us deep personal meaning and connection with each other. Add the arts to a supportive environment, and the results can be world changing for individuals, families, professionals and even workplaces."

The AHI offer programs such as Music & Memory (featured on ABC's Catalyst last year), Play Up (playful interactions with professional actors as valets); Sing Out Loud (a talented maestro encourages participants to find their voice, sing together, and socialise); as well as dance, theatre, writing, and visual art workshops.

Ms Kramer says even after all these years she still feels "transformed" whenever she dances.

"I find myself moving into a beautiful state of being," she says.

Does it make her feel young again?

"I always feel young. I feel the same, creatively, as I did when I was a child, making doll clothes, I'm still designing costumes you know, dancing, performing.

"We should all wake up and say 'I'm going to make something up today, I'm going to create something."

To help fund the production of A Buddha's Wife head to its Pozible page.

Karen Hardy is a reporter at The Canberra Times.

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