Ballroom dance classes booming in Sacramento area

Published: Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1D
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 4, 2013 - 2:22 pm

Jim Sekelsky, a 69-year-old retired railroad machinist, prefers country to ballroom – but really, any kind of dancing will do, which is why he attended a recent Monday afternoon ballroom class at the Mission Oaks Community Center in Carmichael.

"I have a hip pain that's been bothering me for the past few years," he said, "but when I go dancing, I get above it. Pains come and go. But dancing feels fantastic.

"It's great exercise."

Dancing – ballroom dancing in particular – could also be the key to aging with energy and resilience, according to health experts. And courtesy of 16 seasons' worth of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," ballroom dancing is also enjoying a boom in popularity.

Just in time for the silver tsunami of 76 million baby boomers to learn to waltz with grace and vigor into older age, the number of people taking ballroom lessons has soared by 35 percent in the past few years, according to USA Dance, a nonprofit dance association.

At 82, veteran Sacramento ballroom instructor Eddie Lovato epitomizes the advantages of keeping in shape through ballroom dance. Its benefits are hardly news to him. Trim, energetic and sharp, he teaches class six days a week.

"It's good for your body," he said. "It keeps you going. When you're dancing, you're doing two or three things at once."

For older adults in particular, ballroom dance can help improve aerobic capacity and stamina, which in turn can lead to lower blood pressure and better heart health. And ballroom dance can brush up seniors' coordination, balance and agility, all crucial to preventing age-related falling problems.

Remembering steps can help seniors with their memory, as well, although research stops short of claiming that it can prevent dementia and Alzheimer's disease, said Michelle Johnston, regional director for the Alzheimer's Association of Northern California.

"We talk about risk reduction instead," she said. "Exercise is high on the list of things that reduce the risk of dementia. We tell people, 'Do what you enjoy and what you will keep doing.'

"The great thing about dancing is that it incorporates other factors that could also lower your risk. Learning new steps is great for intellectual stimulation."

In midtown Sacramento, Ethel M. Hart Senior Center has offered dances through its Sunday afternoon ballroom club for more than 40 years, said executive director Rosanne Bernardy.

"And there are some people who have been coming for nearly 30 years," she said.

Now Hart also hosts a tea dance on Thursday afternoons that's attended each week by 100 or more people, including a growing number of boomers who are learning what their elders have long known: Twirling across the dance floor can be good for what ails you.

"For people who might not otherwise like to get up and move, the love of dancing will do that for them, and the music," Bernardy said. "The fact that people are up and moving and enjoying themselves is a big benefit."

And so it goes at senior centers and dance clubs across the region, which offer a slate of evening ballroom dances and tea dances every week, many with live music and most with an entry fee of $5.

Mission Oaks, for example, hosts two weekly dances – on Tuesday and Friday afternoons – as well as a Wednesday evening dance during the summer months, said director Terri McAdam.

For decades, she's watched the center's ballroom dancers bravely hold their heads up after illness and loss, and as a result, she's convinced that the benefits of dance go far beyond physical fitness.

"When they lose a spouse and come back here, it fills a void for some people," she said. "Ballroom dancing gives them joy. Their friends here are a big thing. This is their support group. They can get their lives back after a loss, because they have this to come back to.

"I tell you what, it keeps them going."

Joyce Campbell, a retired Aerojet executive secretary who lives in Fair Oaks, is graceful and energetic, a woman with lovely posture and a pretty smile. And she knows what she's doing on the dance floor, because she and her husband have regularly ballroom danced through their 67-year marriage.

Even though he's been too ill in recent years to continue dancing, he often accompanies her to the Mission Oaks ballroom class, where she partners with instructor Lovato to demonstrate the steps.

The class for her amounts to a form of caregiver respite.

"Dancing helps with stress," said Campbell, 83. "I have so much stress. But this gets you moving after all your challenges at home. That's the main reason I keep dancing, for exercise and to keep down the stress."

Ten couples lined up facing one another at a recent Mission Oaks class, as Lovato walked them through a practice cha cha. They changed partners at regular intervals, so more experienced dancers could work with newcomers.

"When you dance, there's the three of you – you, your partner and the music," Lovato said, after instructing them on a pattern. "OK, we'll do it again."

And off they went, dancing and turning for several bars before Lovato stopped to give them more instructions.

Jim and Lori Neuffer – he's an electrical contractor; she teaches English at Sacramento State – have attended class for four years. They're boomers, and they like the benefits of ballroom dance.

"It's really good for coordination and equilibrium and your relationship," said Lori Neuffer.

"I started because she made me," said her husband. "Now I really enjoy it."

So does Karl Stoffers, a retired Sacramento State electrical engineering professor. He's here for the physical therapy.

"Let me tell you how I got here," said Stoffers, 77. "I have a pinched nerve problem in my back. Another retired professor suggested dancing. He said, 'You might be surprised.'

"It turns out, it's good for my back."

Senior dances

What: A variety of dances and instruction for seniors

Where: Mission Oaks Community Center, 4701 Gibbons Drive, Carmichael

When: Adult dances, 1:15-3:45 p.m., Tuesdays and Fridays; ballroom classes 3:30-4:30 p.m., Mondays and 6-8 p.m., Wednesdays; line dancing, 4-5:30 p.m. Fridays

Cost: Vary, starting at $5

Information: (916) 972-0336,

What: A variety of dances for seniors

Where: Ethel M. Hart Senior Center, 915 27th St., Sacramento

When: Line dancing, 9-10 a.m., Thursdays; ballroom dance practice, 1:30-3:15 p.m., Thursdays; Latino dancing, 1-3 p.m., second and fourth Wednesdays; senior club dance (live music), 1-3 p.m. Sundays

Cost: Most are free; $5 donation for club dance

Information: (916) 808-5462;

What: A variety of dances for seniors

Where: Capital Dance Center, 11270 Sanders Drive, Suite A, Rancho Cordova

When: Tea dance, 1-4 p.m. Sundays; senior dances noon-3 p.m. Wednesdays

Cost: $5

Information: (916) 635-2600;

What: Andy's Afternoon Dances and lesson

Where: The Ballroom of Sacramento, 6009 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento

When: Noon-3 p.m., Tuesdays and Fridays

Cost: $5

Information: (916) 456-2616; www.

More photos of ballroom dance

Call The Bee's Anita Creamer, (916) 321-1136.

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