Forget line dancing. Senior citizens in Singapore have found a new passion: the ukulele. The four-stringed instrument, which has come to be associated with happiness, has been soaring in popularity with the silver community.
The People's Association, which holds ukulele classes at its community clubs, said there was a three- fold increase in the number of seniors taking up ukulele courses from January to October this year, compared with the same period last year.
During this period, about 50 ukulele courses for adults were conducted at community clubs islandwide, with some catering to seniors. The average class size is 25.
Among those who have jumped on the bandwagon is a group of seniors who call themselves the Bishan Ukes. They jam every Thursday evening at the Bishan Community Club. The group comprises mostly people in their 50s and 60s.
When The Straits Times attended a session recently, the seniors were having fun playing tunes such as Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus and The Young Ones by Cliff Richard. During such sessions, some of them may squint at the lyrics and chords in their music books but that does not dampen their enthusiasm. They even break out into dance.
Ms Rina Ong, 56, one of the session leaders, said that although the organisers cater for 50 people, she sometimes has to add 20 chairs.
"Sometimes, the seniors get very 'high' and start dancing. It can get dangerous in a small space because they are seniors," she said.
Ms Ong, who also manages a Facebook page for the group, said attendance has risen, from about 40 every session last year to about 60 now.
Most of the seniors turn up in blue or orange "uniforms". This gives them a sense of discipline in attending the sessions, and also a sense of belonging, she said.
Some turn up as early as 5pm for a session that starts at 7pm.
They say the time is right for them to finally pick up a new skill, as they have spent most of their lives working.
"Music doesn't bring in money. In those days, it was all about making yourself educated and earning a living," said Mr Koh Yoh Kwan, 64, a retired trader.
For one of the members, Mr P.K. Krishnan, the ukulele is more than a pastime. It has given the 78-year-old retired owner of an advertising company a sense of purpose when he was feeling down, having suffered two strokes in March and May this year that left him less mobile.
"I locked myself up in the room and didn't want to talk to anyone," he said.
It was the prospect of meeting his friends and playing the ukulele that helped him get through that period. Once he could walk withthe help of a walking stick, he returned to the jam sessions.
His friends from the group are "beautiful people" who make sure that he gets into a cab safely after the sessions, he said.
The effect that the sessions have had on him has not gone unnoticed by his wife, Madam Anna Ang, 70. "She will say this is the one day in the week she sees my eyes sparkling," he said.
Meeting and talking to new friends who share their love for music, and who grew up more or less in the same era as them is a big draw for the seniors.
Madam Gladys Lee, 75, a retired nurse who, by nature, makes friends easily, chats with people she has befriended in the group. Occasionally, they lunch together, bound by their common interest.
Ms Eleanor Yap, an advocate for seniors and active ageing, attended a recent session.
"For some reason, (the ukulele) is really hot among the seniors. Just watch them - your stereotypes go out the window. It's good, it keeps them active," she said.