For more than a decade, 81-year-old Dot Bremner has been dancing her way across the north-east to keep pensioners fit.
However, at a time when her upbeat, toe-tapping and finger-clicking routines are needed more than ever during the coronavirus lockdown, she has been forced to suspend her classes.
Instead, the grandmother, who is partially-sighted and completely deaf without a hearing aid, has taken her own brand of “dancercise” fitness, which include routines including the couch potato Highland Fling, the canny Can-Can and the cheating Charleston, online – recording more than 50 videos to be shared on social media from her back garden in Elgin.
The musical clips have proved a hit across the globe with organisations eager to keep people active into older age, with viewers regularly tuning in from Europe and the US.
Lifelong dancer Mrs Bremner, who is originally from Aberdeen, explained her sessions have helped pensioners stay fit while also helping others recover from injuries.
However, she believes the suspension of classes during lockdown is having more than just a physical impact on members.
She said: “A big part of the sessions is the socialising, just people getting together and having a laugh – there’s a mental side as well as a physical side.
“The trick I’ve found is to make it enjoyable, so it doesn’t feel like exercise. Some people go through the whole hour without feeling tired because they’re having a good time.
“It’s so rewarding seeing people gradually being able to do that little bit more and seeing their confidence grow – that kind of thing can stop some people from going out more.
“If you’ve had a stroke you might struggle to move an arm but after a few classes some people might find they can move it. The best thing is the groups accept you for exactly what you are, it makes a difference.
“It’s a shame not being able to have the classes at the moment, there are a lot of people suffering very badly on their own.
“It’s good to do the videos so there’s at least something for them.”
Retired administration worker Mrs Bremner’s journey to becoming a fitness instructor began in 2002 during her own battle to quit smoking, which she says “drove her crazy”.
She added: “I’ve never done anything so hard in my whole life. I got up in the middle of the night one night and picked up a mouth organ and learned to play, very badly I have to add.”
The flirtation with the instrument led to her and some friends arranging a date to play for one of her local WRI groups.
However, unsure of her musical talents, she also chose to perform a dance routine, which proved a bigger hit with the audience.
She said: “We called ourselves the Hip Bumpers. We had a little group and we went all over Moray for a couple of years getting people up and dancing.”
I never worry about it, I don’t have any street-cred left to worry about, if I fall on my backside while doing it then we can all just have a laugh about it, it doesn’t matter.”
Future events proved such a success that she teamed up with local health services to expand her reach – running three classes a week spread across Moray until the nationwide lockdown forced her to stop in March.
Today she hopes to inspire older people to continue to stay active for as long as they can and to reap physical and mental health rewards.
Come rain or shine, she has been recording videos in garden with friends and neighbours to maintain her fitness message.
She said: “Our efforts are an attempt to help them all to keep in touch online, join in with our routines, to keep them fit and to give them a wee smile.
“I try to make it so people don’t feel bad about whatever they can or can’t do.
“I never worry about it, I don’t have any street-cred left to worry about, if I fall on my backside while doing it then we can all just have a laugh about it, it doesn’t matter.
“The fun of it keeps me going, which I think is the same for others.”
Money raised from Mrs Bremner’s sessions are collected through the year to support a charity of her choice.
During the last two years she has donated more than £3,000 to North East Sensory Services (Ness), which supports those with sight and hearing problems, while other causes in the past have included local playgroups.
Yesterday, she launched her latest campaign to get the north-east fit in time for Christmas.
Lockdown rules have meant she cannot collect money from her classes to fulfill her regular donation to Ness.
So instead, she is running daily online classes through November on her Dancercise with Dot Facebook page.
She said: “Normally in a Covid-less world I would have by this time earned another £1,500 for Ness – this way the charity may not lose out completely.”
Her routines, which can often be done sitting down, can range from high-energy moves inspired by popular dance crazes to those replicating household chores.
Slower mimes in her routines are inspired by sign language due to Mrs Bremner’s own hearing difficulties.
She said: “I’m always working on new ideas so that when I go back to a group there is something new for them to make it more interesting.
“It depends totally on what strikes me, which might sound strange.”
Mrs Bremner’s fitness videos are shared online on the Moray Ball Groups Facebook page.
Returning to education at 75 to become qualified fitness instructor
Dot Bremner’s journey to becoming a qualified fitness instructor was completed when she returned to education at 75 years old.
As her classes grew in popularity she found that she was becoming more involved with people recovering from injuries including strokes or with chronic conditions such as arthritis.
Instead of shying away from the challenge, Mrs Bremner stepped up to try to help them as best she could by enrolling in a year-long course at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh.
Today she reflects on the return to education in her 70s as a “huge challenge” – but one she relished.
She said: “I was the oldest in the class by about 40 years, they all called me ‘Granny Dot’.
“It mainly came about because they asked me to go round some of the sheltered housing as well.
“The big difficulty with that was making sure what I was doing was safe, whether it was safe to ask certain people to twist their back without injuring themselves.
“I didn’t know enough about it, so I thought I better make sure that I knew. It was tough, very tough, but I really enjoyed it.”
And Mrs Bremner’s journey with education did not end there – returning to Edinburgh the following year for an extended course at the Astley Ainslie Hospital to learn about seated exercises.
Today her learning continues to ensure she can continue to reach her classes during the coronavirus lockdown by joining social media for the first time.
However, the move to more online communication has also posed its problems.
She said: “It was important to me to be able to communicate with the various groups I go to. It’s taken some getting used to but it’s good to be able to do it.
“I’ve really struggled to manage with Zoom and Skype though – because of my sight problems I can’t see what’s going on in other parts of the screen.”