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Dancers Our Age Cut a Pretty Mean Rug

From twerking and Gangnam Style to the Carolina Shag and Quick Step, dance moves are getting the 50+ crowd on its feet

By Donna Sapolin

Every once and awhile, a celebrity manages to popularize a dance with a single TV performance or music video that goes viral. It's easy to think that only young people are doing the dance because the celeb is twentysomething, the moves are physically challenging or risque and seem to have originated in a dance club or on a street corner.

But, as the soaring popularity of TV shows like ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance prove, Americans of all ages love to watch, discuss and perform most any kind of dance, whether in a Zumba or ballrooom dance class, at a club or party or in the privacy of their own home.

I was reminded of this fact last weekend while watching an episode of Saturday Night Live. In a very funny segment called “Boy Dance Party,” a football fan played by guest host Bruce Willis, 58, gets down with his buddies in his living room instead of watching the game once the wives and girlfriends leave the house.

As far as I’m concerned, the Bruce Willis SNL skit hit the nail on the head: Folks in midlife and beyond want to dance and they'll do it in the company of any age group. Though, with practice, they can dance amazingly well, they don’t seem to really care what they look like so long as they're having fun.

Multiple seasons of Dancing With the Stars have featured celebs over the age of 50, many of whom have faced physical challenges, from an overweight Kirstie Alley, 62, to Valerie Harper, 74, who is afflicted with terminal brain cancer. We watch them achieve stunning successes, endure heartbreaking missteps, weep and go on. No matter what, we come away inspired because we've seen that the effort also leads to camaraderie, joy and hope.

Dancing Also Fosters Longevity, Vitality and Mental Acuity

Scientific studies have shown that in addition to providing cardiovascular and longevity benefits, dancing forestalls dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. In a 21-year study of 469 people aged 75 and older published in the New England Journal of Medicine, various recreational activities were assessed for their impact on mental acuity. The only one to confer protection against dementia was frequent dancing because of the split-second decision-making involved in following complex dance steps and moving in time to the rhythm.

(MORE: Why a Love of the Arts Will Help Your Brain Age Better)

Benny and Rafi Fine (aka The Fine Brothers) have made a business out of taping videos of various age groups reacting to pop culture. Their Elders React series generally makes those over 50 seem clueless, uninterested and dismissive of contemporary songs and dances. But after surveying a bunch of videos on YouTube uploaded by everyday folk, I’m here to tell you that people our age may, in fact, be the most open-minded group of all. Watch these videos to see what I mean.

The Quick Step

97-year-old Mathilda (Tilly) Klein of Boca Raton, Fla., frequently participates in ballroom dancing events and knocks the socks off judges and audience members alike with her amazing energy and agility.

Gangnam Style

Choreographer, dancer and instructor Mike Song taught his 60-year-old mother, Laura, how to dance to PSY’s Gangnam Style and created a video sensation in the process.


Miley Cyrus launched a torrent of commentary and debate about sexual appropriateness with her recent twerking performance at the VMA Awards. But the enormous controversy didn’t stop midlifers and seniors from giving twerking a whirl — or rather, a jiggle.

The Bronx-born Golden Sisters — Mary, 81, and twins Teresa and Josie, 73, — tape their discussions about pop culture phenomena. You can watch them twerk here.


(MORE: PBS' 'Great Performances' Salutes 40 Years)


Jean Veloz, now 89, performed this beautiful swing dance at the Herrang Dance Camp in Sweden last year. A comment below the video states that witnesses expressed enormous admiration and enthusiasm by stomping — and “literally shook the room.”

Pole Dancing

Greta Pontarelli, 62, a competitive pole dancer, demonstrates the art form and talks about how it can help you become more graceful, fluid and artistic. “It’s a joy to perform," she says, "and it’s a joy to in some small way inspire other people to become the best they can become.”

Carolina Shag (aka the “Dance of the South”)

Charlie Womble and Jackie McGee spotlighted their dance speciality at a Shag workshop this past summer. You can’t help but smile when watching this duo’s fancy footwork.

Now, please excuse me while I go figure out how to do the dance featured in the “The Fox (What does the Fox Say?)” music video by Ylvis, which has racked up over 117 million YouTube hits. Thankfully, there’s a tutorial that can help me out.

I may not be able to dance with the stars. But, like the fox, I can dance under them.

Donna Sapolin is the Founding Editor of Next Avenue. Follow Donna on Twitter @stylestorymedia. Read More
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