Besides the fun and many physical benefits, the British Columbia Square and Round Dance Federation maintains that dancing helps the body stay young, contributes to mental agility and decreases depression and loneliness. Dancing is healthy.
A former health-care worker and member of the Lower Vancouver Island Square and Round Dance Association, Jan Doutaz, says, “I found I was watching too much TV and not enjoying this type of evening. As a schoolgirl, we did basic squares, so when I saw the ad in the paper I put the reminder on the fridge door, so that, come fall, I would be doing something active.”
“I tagged along,” says Jan’s husband, John, current president of the association and owner of his own consulting business. “I’m high energy on the dance floor, singing along with the caller while adding a few extra steps, enjoying each minute.”
Like most dancers, after two hours of dancing, Jan is ready to take off her shoes and slide into her slippers, “but it is a good feeling and my body is happy that it is not in front of the TV or the computer.”
Many dancers still work and dancing gives them the time to unwind, visit with other dancers, joke around and know that their body benefits from the dance. “The feelings show in their faces with smiles and laughter,” says Jan.
Dancing has opened up a completely new life for Jan and John who travel the Island in their fifth wheel and meet other dancers at camp-outs during the summer. They have “tripped the light fantastic” with dancers from all over Canada, Europe and the United States. Dancing “helps us mentally to keep alert and to be able to change with the times. To dance two hours non-stop does keep one focused,” says Jan.
After retirement from the military, Frank Cloutier, current vice-president of the association, went to work with the Department of National Defence.
“Many of my friends who were square dancers seemed to be having so much fun that I decided to try it, and I have enjoyed it ever since,” he says. “It is a great exercise when you do both the square dancing along with the round dancing.”
Frank’s wife, Trudy agrees. “I have met many exciting people and made many friends. Dancing two to three times a week is good exercise.”
The satisfaction one gets from dancing is similar to the exhilaration experienced after exercising, jogging, or going for a good stiff walk, say the Frank and Trudy. “Your body feels good and the dancing gives you a feeling of physical accomplishment. You are doing something you enjoy, with people you like and exercising at the same time without feeling tasked after the evening is over.”
Two years after walking past the Memorial Arena, where they heard music and saw hundreds of people in colourful outfits dancing, Les and Kathleen Quilter learned the people having so much fun were square dancers. They responded to an ad and have been dancing ever since.
“During an evening, you will have danced several kilometres and at the end feel great,” says Kathleen.
Les and Kathleen dance once a week. “Square Dancing keeps my mind and body active and is great as exercise for my diabetes,” says Les, a former electrician with the Royal Canadian Navy and current writer whose short stories have been published in two anthologies.
Through their dancing, Les and Kathleen have met people from all walks of life. “They could be a doctor, teacher, office worker, or plumber, but we are all having fun together,” says Kathleen, a former department store secretary.
On dance nights when they feel tired and are on the verge of staying home, Les and Kathleen force themselves to go. “And are we ever glad,” says Kathleen. “The music gets us going. In some of the squares, we have a song that we do actions to and we all participate. Everyone has fun and you forget how tired your legs are. I feel like I am 20 again.”
Les encourages beginners. “Square dancing has a motto – ‘Friendliness set to music,’” he says. Novice dancers feel confident as long-term participants guide them through calls they might feel too difficult. Having to listen to and follow the calls “stimulates the brain.”
Gisela Braniff was still teaching when a co-worker invited her to square dance. “This was perfect timing,” says Gisela, “since I had recently been diagnosed with osteoporosis and needed to get involved with a weight-bearing activity that I would enjoy and continue doing on a regular basis for years to come.” Gisela says her specialist “has confirmed that dancing has certainly benefited my bones, and encourages me to continue with this activity. Square dancing also assists me with strengthening my core in order to maintain my over-all balance.”
Square dancing “brought back fond memories of when I first learned to square dance in school,” says Gisela’s husband, Jack, a former realty appraiser for the Provincial Government. “In addition to maintaining a healthy body, it stimulates the mind.”
Having met people with similar interests, the Gisela and Jack now travel and have picnics together with other square dancers. According to Gisela, “there is a wide variety of people involved in square dancing, and I have found that everyone sees the dancing community as a strong support system. We have fabulous instructors who can teach almost anyone to become a dancer, both square dancing and round dancing. Square dancing is really just walking to music, whereas round dancing is done with a partner only, and is closely linked to ballroom dancing with someone onstage helping you out with the moves. No one who thinks they have ‘two left feet’ should be afraid to square dance because if you can walk and listen to directions, you can square dance.”
Gisela and Jack routinely dance three times a week, although some weeks, they find themselves on the dance floor five or more days a week.
“A two-hour square dance is the exercise equivalent of walking eight kilometres, if you dance every tip and round dance,” says Bruce Irving, publicity chair of the Lower Vancouver Island Western Square and Round Dance Association.
A low-impact weight-bearing activity that builds bones, dance involves both physical and mental stimulation significant enough to improve balance and co-ordination and reduce the risk of age-related memory loss.
Like Jan, many of today’s boomers and seniors are replacing a sedentary existence with an active lifestyle that keeps them fit while they have fun - a prize-winning recipe for optimum physical and mental health.
SEPTEMBER 2011 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND