On a recent vacation in Palm Beach, Florida, my husband and I stumbled upon a gem of a restaurant. We discovered that the bygone era of the supper club was alive and kicking at 264 The Grill where the talented Switzer Trio performed hits from such legendary singers as Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney and Nat King Cole. I developed a fondness for this type of music growing up listening to my mother’s record collection. I still treasure these records two decades after her passing.
Many of the restaurant’s patrons appeared to be seniors, but I could immediately sense their joie de vivre as couples enthusiastically danced to the songs of their youth. And they knew how to dance properly!
One couple made my jaw drop. Both in their late-70s, the tall, slim white-haired gentleman led his vivacious, elegantly attired wife around the dance floor. The applause nearly drowned out the band each time he dipped, twirled or lifted his wife with dramatic flair.
Between dinner courses, or whenever a song they fancied began to play, this couple would approach the dance floor; their posture and overall body language seemed to change. It was as if they’d just taken a sip from the fountain of youth. Although they later informed me they are self-taught amateur dancers, they sure could cut a rug. Whether it was the cha-cha, tango, samba or salsa, they moved with style and grace.
They left me breathless, especially when the woman placed the back of her head in the nook of her husband’s arm, and he lowered her backwards until she was suspended just inches above the dance floor. And he held her there for what seemed like an eternity. Nearly three decades older than me, she had the flexibility and balance of a much younger person.
I never learned to ballroom dance. My disco generation did the bump, the hustle and a lot of freestyle, frenetic arm-flailing, hip-gyrating moves. That evening at the restaurant, I lived vicariously through all of the talented, mature couples; they demonstrated that, when you engage in an activity you love, it helps you keep physically and mentally fit, and age doesn’t matter.
Dancing provides many health benefits. It improves proprioception, balance, agility, co-ordination and strength. Dance can be an excellent form of aerobic exercise. Dancing also employs different cognitive skills, such as rote memory needed to perform steps in a particular sequence and creative thinking as one adapts on the fly to the nuanced moves of one’s partner. Movement to music helps alleviate stress and distracts us from our feelings of exertion, thereby allowing us to engage in the activity longer or with more intensity.
Dancing also offers social benefits and reduces feelings of isolation. A study conducted by Jonathan Skinner of Queen’s University Belfast examined the effects of social dancing on seniors. He found that dancing can contribute to better physical, emotional and mental health. The study suggests that seniors who engage in social dancing can reduce incidences of illness and improve their sense of happiness.
Dance is an excellent way for people of all ages to work their heart muscles and burn calories while having a good time. You can find opportunities to dance at community centres and different types of clubs geared for different styles and age groups. You can take dance lessons, but don’t feel limited to ballroom dancing. For example, square dancing and line dancing are popular social activities. Israeli folk dancing – which my friends and I did many times as a social activity when we were single – is offered weekly for all levels in Ottawa. Information is available at www.ottawaisraelidance.ca.
My husband’s Aunt Gertie recently passed away. She must have been over 90. She ran a dance studio for many years in Zimbabwe for much of her life. When she moved to South Africa, she became a volunteer dance instructor at retirement homes. Upon her passing, many of her former dance students from years ago shared personal memories on social media. Her passion for dance improved the quality of her life and countless others.
If you’d like to hear some of the great oldies, but you don’t have a music collection, tune in to Legends Radio free at www.legendsradio.com. And remember to “dance like nobody’s watching!”
Gloria Schwartz is a personal trainer at the Soloway JCC and author of Personal Best: Train Your Brain and Transform Your Body for Life.