Visions of grandma and grandpa whiling away their golden years in front-porch rocking chairs may be a thing of the past. Today’s senior landscape reflects grands rockin’ out on the dance floor more often than sitting on the sidelines watching the world go by. Many are stimulating their brains and muscles by moving to music in line dance classes.
Line dancing — dancing solo in a line to the rhythm of popular music — has become a health trend that has seen line dance classes pop up in senior centers and recreation centers around the world. The movement that developed in the early 1990s as a worldwide craze, primarily among younger generations and inspired by the likes of Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaking Heart” and the resulting popular line dance by that same name, has been revived in recent years by the over-50 crowd.
The classes provide an ideal way for individuals without a dance partner to enjoy putting movement to music. While line dancing has traditionally been associated with country music, today’s instructors teach to everything from Pitbull’s “Timber” to Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.”
However, no line dance music may be as well-known as the specialized country line dance music of singer/songwriter and nonprofit charity CEO Scooter Lee. Lee will be sharing her low-impact line dance-to-health movement with area dancers and instructors Friday through March 8 at the Myrtle Beach Base Recreation Center.
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“We actually say we’re getting the seniors out of the doctor’s offices,” Lee said of her Dancing for the Dream charity movement during a recent telephone interview. “Once [seniors] end up in rocking chairs and using walkers and canes, it’s too late.”
For more than 10 years, the name Scooter Lee, an international country singer/songwriter and recording artist for more than 25 years, has been synonymous with using line dance to promote healthier lifestyles among active adults. A New Orleans native born Scooter Lee Gilhaus, she is recognized as a pioneer in the movement to combine music with concentrated movement to enhance physical, mental and emotional wellness.
In 2003, Lee founded Dancing for the Dream Inc., a nonprofit senior health charity for aging adults. At age 59 and after three bouts with cancer and dropping more than 100 pounds, she heads the charity out of Atlanta while traveling the world 175 days a year, bringing her line dance seminars and boot camps to locations from Australia to South Carolina. In Myrtle Beach, some 200 line dancers, from beginner to intermediate levels, will come from across the Southeast for three days of dance instruction by Dancing for the Dream co-founder and choreographer Jo Thompson Szymanski. The group will dance to the specialized line dance music Lee has recorded over the last decade.
Lee said the focus of the charity is to help provide seniors with a healthy form of exercise and social activity. She said using low impact line dancing on average three times a week can help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels while increasing stamina, muscle memory and balance. Additionally, she said the comradery among the dancers can help alleviate depression that often comes with aging.
Adding life to their years, years to their life
According to a report by the Association of American Retired Persons (AARP) in 2011, baby boomers will turn 65 at a rate of 8,000 a day over the next 18 years in the United States.
Seeking a more active lifestyle than that of their ancestors while looking for ways to combat weight gain and mental decline, they have embraced the fast growing movement as a favorite way to combine physical and mental stimulation with socialization and just plain fun.
Abby McCrary, 63, never thought about line dancing as an exercise she might like until after retiring and moving to Murrells Inlet from Virginia in 2001. Her mom suggested it when the two of them were watching some line dancers in a Surfside Beach parade. Her first attempt at a class, she said, was “hilarious” and not for her. However, she gave a second instructor a chance, and within the first half-hour, she knew she loved it.
“She was so patient. I left and came home and practiced. The next week I knew [the dance],” McCrary said.
She and some friends practiced in a neighbor’s garage on Saturdays, sometimes with only McCrary’s humming to keep the beat. Eventually, when the line dance teacher quit due to knee surgery, McCrary stepped in to fill the void. That was 2009, and she has been teaching and attending Scooter Lee boot camps to advance her knowledge as an instructor ever since.
Today she teaches beginner and intermediate classes at the South Strand Recreation Center off Scipio Lane in Myrtle Beach from 9 a.m. to noon Monday and Wednesday. She also teaches from 2-4 p.m. Monday during the winter months at The Marlin in Garden City for advanced dancers.
Participants in her classes range in age from 51 to 81. Her students call her a patient instructor, but do not be fooled by her gentle manner, sense of humor and broad smile. She is there to teach, and when you leave her class, you will know you have had a workout. As McCrary says, you had better bring your brain to class along with your feet, as the average dance includes 32 to 64 steps, with the most complicated being 128 steps danced to a remake of “Mony, Mony.”
Among dancers taking instruction from McCrary is 81-year-old Mary Ann Poeschl, who relocated to the Grand Strand from Pennsylvania in 1987 with her husband. Now widowed, she finds line dancing a way to get out of the house and remain active.
“You shouldn’t quit moving,” Poeschl said. “You have to force yourself because as you get older, you have a tendency to sit in the rocking chair, but you’ve got to get up and get moving. The best thing you can do for yourself is get up and dance.
“I love to dance, and Abby is a fantastic personality and fantastic teacher. I just love her, and when I come out of there, I feel so happy. There’s a lot of comradery,” she said.
Poeschl said for her, line dancing is “a happy time” that leaves her tired but energized. She jokes that she and a very energetic 91-year-old friend who volunteers with her at the airport information booth are scheming to lie about their ages because “we don’t want people treating us like old ladies.”
The youngest member of McCrary’s classes, 51-year-old triage nurse Angela Lackey, works long hours from home. She uses line dancing as a way to exercise and socialize. Lackey said line dancing provides a good all-around workout. “It’s not hard on your joints, and it exercises your mind.”
Rick Burke, 62, of Surfside Beach is among the six men currently in McCrary’s classes. His favorite song to dance to is “Pontoon” by Little Big Town.
Burke said he comes for both physical and mental exercise, and because, “I just like being with people, sharing conversation and intermingling. Also because Abby is a great teacher, and she knows what she’s doing.”
Line dance draws a lot of couples as well. Mary Kathryn Ross of Murrells Inlet has been in McCrary’s classes the longest of any of her students. She and husband Mike have danced for more than 21 years, initially doing couples dances before moving to the area from Virginia. Mike Ross said a back problem forced him to give up golf, and he uses line dancing for his exercise. He especially likes that McCrary makes everyone feel welcome and never points out individual mistakes, choosing rather to go over the steps again to ensure everyone gets them right.
For McCrary, who calls out the steps to every dance over and over, and runs from wall to wall like the Energizer Bunny so she can stay in front of the class as the dancers rotate around the room, the rewards of being an instructor are abundant.
“One of the rewards is when someone comes in and thinks they can’t do it, but they stay and later they are so happy because they say, ‘I finally get it,’” McCrary said. “It makes me so happy, and I can tell they are happy, too.”
As for attending the upcoming line dance boot camp with Scooter Lee, the “queen of line dance music,” McCrary said, “I just love to line dance, and if I can line dance all weekend in Myrtle Beach, I’m going to be there.”