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4 Tips to Dance Like Chaka Khan at Any Age

'Dancing With the Stars' proves you're never too old to get your groove on

By Ann Oldenburg

We saw music legend Chaka Khan, 62, ready to rumba at the start of the 2015 season of ABC's Dancing With the Stars.

Gary Busey, 71; Chaka Khan, 62; and Paula Deen, 68
Gary Busey, 71; Chaka Khan, 62; and Paula Deen, 68  |  Credit: Courtesy of ABC/Disney

"Look out for me," she boldly told her Twitter fans before doing a cha-cha to one of her own songs, I Feel For You, on premiere night. And then we saw her become the first celebrity to get booted from the show.

Still, we were inspired. And we continue to be because, as always, the over-50 competitors are tearing up the ballroom. OK, maybe not with technique, but with humor and style.

Let’s Hear It for These Hoofers

Seasoned celebs are always a key part of the Dancing cast. And it only makes sense, as the median age of a DWTS viewer is 61.6, according to Nielsen ratings. We like watching the older performers try to be lords of the dance. And, yes, we like the beauty, grace and admirable abs of everyone on the floor.

Dancing With the Stars has boosted a renewed interest in ballroom dancing, which once seemed on the brink of extinction. Just hours after Dancing's premiere in 2005, an Arthur Murray studio in Boston reported a 600 percent increase in visitors to its website, reported the Christian Science Monitor. Through the years, the series has showed that dynamism, sex appeal, stamina and, yes, athleticism, are attainable for anyone.

Donny Osmond was 51 when he became the Season 9 champ in 2009, and still holds the title as the oldest male DWTS winner. Jennifer Grey, who won in 2010 at age 50 is the oldest female DWTS winner to date.

On nearly every season, there are victories for the boomers-and-beyond group. Kirstie Alley, at 60, came in second place in 2011. Stoner comedian Tommy Chong, at 76, wowed fans and made it to the semifinals of Season 19 last fall. Designer Betsey Johnson, 73, literally cartwheeled her way through much of that same season. Valerie Harper, 74 and battling brain cancer, danced through week four of her season in 2013. Cloris Leachman, the oldest competitor ever, amused and charmed everyone in 2008 at age 82.

There's hope for us all.

And did we mention weight loss? Political commentator and radio show host Tavis Smiley, who competed last year at age 50, lost 20 pounds during several weeks of rehearsals before the show even started.

Are you inspired? Ready to try a little samba for yourself and finally unleash your Footloose fantasies?

4 Tips to Help You Take That First Dance Step

We turned to Dancing With the Stars pro Louis van Amstel, founder of dance programs and Paula Deen's pro partner this season, for tips to help get you started.

"It is thrilling," he says, to see Deen, who has "never danced before and never seen the inside of a gym," tackle the numbers each week. And it can be thrilling for you.

1: Stop telling yourself that you can't.

"Many people — doesn't matter what age — but especially over-50 — they say, 'I can't.' That t-double-o word is what I don't like," says van Amstel. "I'm too left-footed. I'm too old. I'm too overweight."

Stop the negative talk. Says van Amstel: "We limit ourselves when we do that. Instead, focus on the dance — and anything's possible."


He adds, "Paula (Deen) is now a kind of living example. Yes, she's 68, but that doesn't mean she can't be sexy, doesn't mean she can't move in a way she thought she couldn't."

2: Start moving and keep moving.

"People are fearful of falling. They become inactive. But the opposite is so much healthier," says van Amstel. "The more you move, the less fearful you have to be and the less fearful you will be. Dance is a wonderful way to build confidence so that at a later age you are not fearful of falling."

And dance isn't just excellent for balance and agility. Van Amstel notes, "Dancing can help prevent Alzheimer's and dementia. It's good for your brain."

3: Light stretching is key.

You don't need to be able to do the splits or even touch your toes. "Light stretching" is all you need to do, says van Amstel.

"It has been scientifically proven that deep stretching puts more stress on the muscle," he says. So just do some light stretching before you start. And don't forget a warm-up and cool down.

4: Don't be intimidated.

"If a person Size 2 is teaching a group, a person Size 12 or bigger is intimidated and won't want to take the class," van Amstel says. But he urges you to view your instructor as inspiring, not intimidating. They are there to teach you, not judge you.

If you need to ease into it, he adds that you can do many of his LaBlast Fitness dance programs in your home, using online courses and DVDs. But the key is to let go of the idea that you're too anything.

If you walk into one of van Amstel's dance studios and start saying you're too old, it won't fly. "We will shush you. We don't want to hear it. We don't believe it," he says. "Don't be afraid to dance. It is life changing. Anyone can dance."


Ann Oldenburg Ann Oldenburg, who started her career at The Washington Post and was a longtime culture writer at USA Today, is assistant director of the journalism program at Georgetown University. An advocate of lifelong learning, she is a member of the first cohort of Georgetown's new Aging & Health master’s program. Read More
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