Square dancing helps seniors stay young, limber and spry

Drop by Creekside Seniors Activity Centre on a Thursday and you'll find an energized group of seniors swinging their partners

Isabel Wynne

Isabel Wynne

While anti-aging vitamins, tonics and treatments run the gamut, the real fountain of youth may just be square dancing.

Drop by Creekside Seniors Activity Centre on a Thursday afternoon and you’ll find an energized group of seniors swinging their partners and promenading up a storm. You would be hard-pressed to find many among them under the age of 70.

Hardly a beat is missed, as they respond to the directions of caller Dave Abbs who leads them through dance sequences set to the rhythm of music.

The South Cariboo square dance community includes two clubs, the 100 Mile Twirlers and the Lac la Hache Caribooters.

Together, they have a combined total of 36 dancers, all between the ages of 60-plus and 91. One of the oldest, but no less spry, is Isabel Wynne.

Even at 91 years of age, she can dance with the best of them, including 87-year-old Louis Judson, who keeps the rhythm with one artificial leg.

Age seems to be no barrier in square dancing, and when Wynne and 90-year-old Jim Milliken from the

Caribooters link arms, there’s an amazing 181 years of life experience between them.

Wynne didn’t start square dancing until she turned 70, after she had enough of hobby farming goats and chickens with her husband, George. The couple came to the South Cariboo in 1974, while in their mid-fifties, to take up the life of hippies.

“George had been in the military, but he grew long hair and a mustache and would put on his best patched jeans to go sell our eggs in town,” Wynne says, laughing.

While the pair was just learning to dance, they would sometimes go out and kick up their heels as many as six days a week, although the normal pattern was three days.

“We had such a lot of fun and we were just gung-ho. At that time, we were fit enough to really twirl.”

Wynne is down to once a week now, and admits there are days she’d rather stay home, but has such a good time when she gets on the dance floor and feels great afterwards.

The friendships made at square dancing are a big thing for her. She appreciates the social contact with folks she wouldn’t normally see outside of the dance environment.

Wynne says she also enjoys the mental and physical exercise that comes with her hobby and the overall benefits gained through dancing to joyful, upbeat music.

“You have to listen and think all of the time and that’s good for you.”

Wynne is correct, according to information put out by the BC Square & Round Dance Federation about the healthy benefits of square dancing. It states square dancing makes seniors less likely to develop dementia because it exercises their mind by requiring dancers to remember steps and sequences while keeping in time to the music.

The federation states that if you can walk, you can square dance and all of the low-impact movement that is involved is good for the heart and for building bone density, which will help to stave off osteoporosis. In addition, dancing also helps to improve balance and co-ordination which can make one less prone to falls.

The federation also confirms the social contact and camaraderie that develops between square dancers is a good antidote for loneliness and depression.

Hazel Parker heads up the Lac la Hache club as president and says their current membership is at 24. They dance on Mondays at 1:30 p.m. at Pioneer Centre in Lac la Hache, and on Thursday afternoons, at Creekside Seniors Activity Centre in 100 Mile House. From 1:30 to 3 p.m. is Mainstream dancing is from 1:30 to 3 p.m.,  and starting 3:15 p.m., there is Plus dancing for the more experienced who enjoy extra challenge.

In the past, weekly club dancing was done in the evenings, but the aging membership has opted for daytime sessions to avoid driving in the dark.

Less than 10 years ago, the South Cariboo boasted four square dance clubs, but aging and the slowdown of new memberships forced amalgamations and the closure of clubs at 70 Mile House and 150 Mile House.

The two existing clubs make up the South Cariboo Square Dance Association and between them, host special occasion dances for Halloween, Christmas, New Year’s.

They also host the annual South Cariboo Square Dance Jamboree which will mark its 56th anniversary in June 2012. It involves three days of dancing at the 108 Community Hall which traditionally attracts dancers from all over British Columbia. Many will set up camp for the weekend in their motor homes and trailers on the hall grounds.

100 Mile Twirlers president Audrey Hoeg says she would like to see her club membership increase, so the association can continue to host the Jamboree and all of the other special dances that require time and manpower.

“We’re all getting older, but there’s lots of work to do.”

The coffee is always on and snacks are on the table each time the square dancers get together. Anyone wishing to give it a try is welcome to join them at either of the mainstream sessions.

For more information, contact Parker at 250-396-7698 or Hoeg at 250-791-6747.