Dancing Into the Golden Years

Roberto Vazquez
DANCERS John & Alyson Zahn.

As the swinging sound of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to The Moon” surrounded him, Rich Irwin stepped outside the senior prom into fresh air, snazzily dressed in tuxedo and red bow tie, a smile spread across his face.

The Seal Beach resident, 70, shared, “I love ballroom dance. I’m terrific at polka, I just can’t get the tango quite right yet,” then added, “But these people really know how to dance!”

Older Americans and Mental Health Month

Heidi Mazas, recreation superintendent for the City of Long Beach Parks, Recreation and Marine, beamed with pride as she spoke about Senior Prom, one of the eleven, free events held in May, dedicated to celebrating older Americans.

The events, held separately at sites throughout the city, promoted several key areas of life, including health and fitness, art and culture, and nature activities.

“We’re celebrating older Americans. We have eleven events. It’s Mental Health Month, too, so I think this is doing that, as well. I think we’re celebrating both of those.”

Mazas added, “We’ve actually seen a lot of new seniors come through to the events and a lot of our other, older adults have ventured out to different sites.”

According to Andrea Lain-Ruffino, El Dorado Park Community Service Supervisor, “We’ve done it several times before COVID but this is our first time since. And, since it’s Older Americans Month, we thought we’d bring it back in May.”

The Magic of Music and Dance

Ruth Millan, who spoke about the effects of Senior Prom said, “Oh my goodness! It just lifts the soul. There’s something that music does that nothing else can do. It motivates you to get up, move around and talk with people,” adding, “It’s a wonderful way to have even physical contact, in a pure way.”

Millan added, “There’s a connection when you’re dancing with someone, there’s a communication that doesn’t happen any other way. It’s a really neat thing.”

The magic of music and dance can be summed up by a story Millan shared.

“One of the ladies, she’s gone now, she was in her 80s, she said, ‘It’s the only time you let a man dominate you, when he’s dancing, the only time!’”

As Millan recalled that story she laughed.

“I’m a feminist but not the hard-core feminist. I believe we kinda want to follow, you know?”

She laughed again and said, “We want to follow the good guys.”

For Carlos Soriano, 84, dancing for the last 12 years has become both a way of life and a way to cope with grief. “My wife passed away 13 years ago. My daughter suggested, ‘Hey Dad, why don’t you take dance lessons s?’ And that’s what I did!”

Nowadays, the native of Argentina dances several days a week, sometimes twice in a day. “It’s fun. On Friday, we go to the Elks Lodge in Garden Grove or the American Legion in Newport Beach. Then, sometimes we go to the La Habra Senior Center,” adding, “I double-dip on Sundays. We go to Yorba Linda and then to Leisure World, where they have a dance.”

The Adversities of Aging

They say use it or lose it.

Data shows an active lifestyle, a balanced diet and physical fitness all contribute to a healthier body and mind.

Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive related illnesses have increased dramatically in the last 25 years.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 55 million people around the world have dementia, with more than 60% residing in middle-class and low-income nations. Alarmingly, between 1990 and 2019, dementia increased by 147.95%, according to the National Institute of Health.

Ms. Millan, who works at a hospital, said, “That’s one of the reasons why I’m here. I don’t want cognitive decline. I work as a physical therapist and I see it.”

Then, just as she was about to hit the dancefloor again upon hearing the big band begin a second set, Millan added, “So, I say eat organic, eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables … and dance!”

Music and Dancing: Mind, Body and Soul

There’s no doubt the pandemic caused havoc on everyone, especially those with an active social life, such as the big band regulars. One couple, John and Alyson Zahn, talked about the effects of dancing during the pandemic.

“This is our favorite place to dance because we love both the bands on Monday and Wednesday. It’s mind, body and soul to get out there and to make it happen.”

Luckily for the Zahns, they converted their garage into a dance studio, just before COVID hit. “We put mirrors on the wall and redid the floors, so we were actually dancing through COVID.”

His wife of 25 years spoke about the positive aspects of dancing in their lives and marriage. “When we were getting married, we thought about taking up golf or dancing together and we chose dancing. It’s been great for our relationship.” The couple still takes lessons from the same teacher, 27 years after they began dancing.

“I think it’s good physically. I think it’s great, mentally. It’s a little bit more difficult now than it was 25 years ago to learn new steps but we’re still doing it and I think it’s great.”

Alyson Zahn added, “We always get back in the car and we’re so happy we’ve come here. We never regret it, ever.

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