If you’re looking for a fun, novel way to keep fit, stave off dementia and make new friends, consider adding ballroom dancing to your recreational repertoire. The Bellingham Senior Activity Center holds weekly dances on Tuesday afternoons year round and every alternate Saturday evening you’ll find more couples doing the foxtrot, cha-cha, swing and waltz at the center.
Many of the participants come alone, says Bill Ealzell, 71, an avid ballroom dancer who began ballroom dancing 15 years ago and has hosted the Saturday night dances with his wife for the past four years. “It doesn’t seem to be a problem for singles,” he noted. “You never know from one week to the next who will attend, but Bellingham is a very accepting and nourishing environment, and newcomers are welcomed and helped by the regulars.”
The dance floor is a great place to foster new friendships with different people. Even romances have blossomed there. Ealzell said he knows several people who came as singles and met new life partners on the dance floor. While it might be discouraging for a newcomer in the beginning, the more you come, the more you learn, he said. The age range for Saturday night attendance is 50 through 70 and the dancing is preceded by a half-hour lesson delivered by volunteer instructors from the Bellingham Dance Company.
“Ballroom dancing is not just a great social activity, it’s also good for a number of health reasons, physical and mental,” he reflected. “It’s like playing a game of chess: you have to think ahead, both in your body timing and thought processes. There’s research showing that dancing helps stave off dementia, but it’s also a good bit of exercise, helping with your poise and confidence. When you’re ballroom dancing, you’re standing straighter and looking better.”
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Eric Pierson, program coordinator for the senior center, said up to 50 dancers attend on Tuesdays, when the ballroom dancing is accompanied by live music from the band Good Vibrations. “They play classics from the era that people remember growing up with,” he said. “It’s very social – people bring snacks, sandwiches and cakes and have a potluck snack in the middle of the session. There’s a good vibe and a friendly atmosphere.”
The age group on Tuesdays is primarily 70s to 80s, and dancers switch partners so that everyone who wants to be included on the dance floor is included. While there’s a short dance lesson on Saturdays, on Tuesdays there is freestyle dancing with no instruction, Pierson said.
The Bellingham Senior Activity Center offers English country dance lessons on Thursdays at 1:30 p.m. and step dancing classes Mondays and Fridays. Ballroom dancing is Tuesday afternoons from 2-4 p.m. For avid dancers who want to come regularly, the $40 annual membership at the center adds discounts to the ballroom dance sessions. Non-members can feel free to arrive and pre-registration is not required. For more information visit the Bellingham Senior Activity Center online at wccoa.org, or at 315 Halleck St.
The Saturday dance is open to the public and to those who can’t dance but are willing to learn ballroom with a little Latin, fox trot, swing, waltz, nightclub two-step, rumba, cha cha, salsa, samba and tango. Events are 7-9 p.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. Admission is $5.