Dancing helps seniors to stay in step

Jean Owen teaches a line dancing class at Oak Harbor Senior Center Friday afternoon. - Photo by Michelle Beahm / Whidbey News-Times
Jean Owen teaches a line dancing class at Oak Harbor Senior Center Friday afternoon.
— image credit: Photo by Michelle Beahm / Whidbey News-Times

As seniors age gracefully, many are also learning to move gracefully.

Fortunately for seniors living on Whidbey Island, there are plenty of options when it comes to dancing. And none of them require previous training or experience.

“I had two left feet,” said Vivian Camus. “I didn’t have any rhythm.”

Camus is now taking a line dancing class at Oak Harbor Senior Center three to five times a week, and she can no longer claim she doesn’t have rhythm.

Camus didn’t start dancing just because she wanted to learn how. Camus, who moved to Oak Harbor to be with her children after her husband died, began taking dance classes in 2009 because she wanted to meet new people.

“I have a wide group of people outside of line dancing that I met in line dancing, so it’s been good for me,” she said.

She said that she also dropped from a size 16 to a size 10 quickly because dancing is a great form of exercise.

Dan Branscum, of Dan’s Classic Ballroom in Oak Harbor, said that dancing is the “world’s best exercise for adults.” Core strength and stamina are only two of the many health benefits he says dancing offers.

The benefits of dancing for senior citizens continues to gain attention by researchers. Studies have shown that “shaking it,” as the kids might say, not only makes for excellent exercise and socialization, but is also good for the brain and can even help jog forgotten memories, the AARP reports.

Plus, it’s just fun.

Jean Owen, a teacher of a couple line dancing classes at the senior center, started dancing for the health benefits after a surgery to fix a major artery. Before the surgery, Owen said she could barely walk across the street, and now she line dances three days a week.

She started taking a “Healthy You” class in Sequim after her surgery, something that was being offered for those recovering from surgery, but it was line dancing that really caught her interest.

“I started taking line dancing after I was well enough to start doing exercises,” she said. “And that’s what started me line dancing, and when I moved over here, I didn’t want to stop line dancing.”

One thing many seem to agree on is that dancing is also good for the mind.

“Not only do you use your body, but you also have to use your brain a lot, too,” Branscum said.

In ballroom dancing, he said, the leads have to always be thinking of and planning the next moves they will make around the dance floor, and the ladies have to constantly be remembering to hold their frame and be prepared to follow the lead of their partner.

There are studies that show dancing increases cognitive acuity, helps to ward off Alzheimer’s and other dementia and reduces stress, according to Richard Powers, a dance teacher at Stanford University.

Helen Neitzel, a co-teacher of a line dancing class at the senior center, agrees that a huge benefit of dancing is keeping the mind sharp, because you always have to remember the steps to the dances.

However, Neitzel’s favorite part of line dancing is the people she gets to spend time with.

The line dancing classes Neitzel and Owen teach together has turned into a second family, of sorts.

“Everybody looks out for everybody,” Owen said.

The group celebrates birthdays together with monthly potlucks.

Owen and Neitzel started teaching line dancing classes when the previous teacher moved away. Neither wanted to stop line dancing, so they took up the reins themselves.

Owen, 87, is an inspiration for some of her students.

“She has such a natural gift to some of us who thought we had two left feet,” said Marilyn Trout, a student who said she can’t keep up with Owen.

“She’s just such a wonderful, wonderful person.”

Owen teaches a beginner and intermediate class on Tuesdays at the senior center from noon to 2 p.m., then another two-hour line dancing class at 6 p.m. Wednesdays and a Friday line dancing class from 1-2 p.m.

“She’s pretty amazing,” said Norvin Stanley, of Owen. “She’s hard to keep up with.”

According to Owen, the senior center gets $10 a month for the classes, but she doesn’t charge anything as a teacher. She puts out a donation jar, which students are free to put in as much or as little as they want. Owen said she and Neitzel split the money, and she puts it towards things like the birthday potlucks and equipment.

Aside from offering line dance classes, hula dancing and ballroom dance classes, the senior center also hosts a monthly dance on the second Friday of each month, open to anyone, and everyone is encouraged to attend.

The senior center classes usually have around 20 people in them, according to Owen, but if you’re more interested in smaller classes, Branscum said his studio specializes in small classes with only four to eight people in them and private sessions are also offered.


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