It began with a whirl and twirl. A stomp of the foot and an intricate rhythm played by a classical guitar.
The percussive ring of castanets doesn’t quite sound like a typical volunteer experience. No boxes to pack or canned foods to unload.
But for Blue Cross and Blue Shield employee Anna Peña, a love of flamenco dancing has grown from a hobby to a volunteer experience that has her teaching a class each month at the WellMed Charitable Foundation Senior Community Center.
Anna’s work trips often last a week at a time. Like many busy professionals, she wasn’t quite sure how she could fit volunteering into her schedule. But she had been raised to value volunteering.
“From a very young age, my mom was always a volunteer — Girl Scouts, school or at church,” Anna says. “It was instilled in us that when you give back to community, positive things can happen.”
Anna’s call to volunteer came when she was talking about her love of dance while visiting a medical office for her job. She was told the senior center next door was looking for someone to teach a movement class.
It was a volunteer job that Anna was born to do. She began dancing tap and ballet when she was small. Her father owned a nightclub, and the flamenco dancers there caught her eye. She was drawn to the emotional style of dance, where dancers convey feelings through body movements and facial expressions.
Despite her interest as a young girl, though, Anna didn’t start learning flamenco until she turned 40.
There are many styles of flamenco dancing, which is native to Spain. Every style is called a palo and is defined by its rhythm, mood and ties to cultural traditions. A well-known palo is the tango.
Each dance is made up of three parts, including the guitar playing or hand clapping, the song, and the dance. An important part of flamenco is improvising — making up the dance as you go along.
Anna’s fluency in flamenco has attracted her quite the following at the senior center. When word got out that she was teaching flamenco, her class quickly filled with participants, including some Spaniards.
The flowing skirts of traditional flamenco dance aren’t required in Anna’s class. Her students are welcome to come as they are, in casual clothes and rubber-soled shoes. She teaches men and women in their 70s, 80s and 90s, some in wheelchairs, some seated, others on their feet.
Anna keeps her class lively with props for those who can use them, including shawls, castanets and fans. Some of the props are a challenge for those with arthritis, so Anna focuses on the music. She spends time after each class discussing how to listen to and feel the rhythm.
She sees the joy her students feel when doing something completely different than they’ve ever done before. Her students are so dedicated that a few women have asked Anna to make recordings so they can practice between classes.
Anna’s students have taught her a lesson in return. “I want to stay as active as I can,” she said. “Giving back to the community really brightens their day. Some of my students have no one else in their life. They come to my class to interact with people. I see that they are really enjoying themselves. To see smiling faces makes it more rewarding for me.”
Anna is just one of our company’s 4,725 employee volunteers who gave more than 110,413 hours of service to 1,427 nonprofits in 2016.
To learn more about how our company and employee volunteers are making a difference in the communities we serve, visit our 2016 Social Responsibility Report.