Ballroom dancing brings local teens, senior citizens together

Published 9:46 am Thursday, February 5, 2015

NW0205 LEDE PHOTO Ballroom Dancers C

Knowing how to dance is something we’re born with. If you don’t believe that, check out the scores of videos posted by proud parents of toddlers moving and grooving to everything from a musical toy to a lively soundtrack on a Mickey Mouse cartoon.
They bounce up and down, kick their feet and wiggle with glee. There are no rules in a child’s realm of dance.
But learning how to dance correctly is a whole other story. That takes practice. It takes concentration. It takes at least a little sense of rhythm.
So several Elizabethton High School students learned as they took part in a ballroom dance class at the school, sponsored by the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Top Gun Aviators Club and led by faculty member and sponsor for both clubs, Dan Mills.
The dancing lessons are the means to an honorable end. Students take part in two after-school sessions in Mills’ classroom. Once they’ve mastered the steps to dances like the swing and the cha-cha-cha, each can invite his or her favorite senior citizen ­— most often a grandparent — for an evening of dance at Memorial Presbyterian Church Feb. 12.
Other seniors who would like to come need not wait for a personal invitation; anyone who wants to attend is welcome. The event, set for 6:30-8 p.m., is free, and refreshments will be served.
The project started three years ago when a student, Ian Glover, came to Mills with an idea.
“He said, ‘You know, on Valentine’s Day, everybody is happy and in love. But it’s a hard time for older people who have lost a spouse.’ ” Mills recalled. “He wanted to know if there was something we could do.”
The idea bloomed, and now Mills estimates 40 to 45 people enjoy the special dance each year.
On Friday, Mills’ classroom-turned-dance-studio was full. Eleven students showed up to dance — five boys, six girls.
Some seemed excited; others a bit apprehensive. But when the music started, everyone seemed to relax. The dance of the day was the swing. Next week the group will learn the cha-cha. There was a lot of laughing. It appears it is impossible to dance and be unhappy at the same time.
There were no cell phones, tablets or iPads in sight — just a roomful of high school students, their two dance instructors, Ken and Lee Simmelink, and a boombox playing the best of swing dance tunes.
The Simmelinks have been ballroom dancing for the past 18 years and teaching for the past four. They have a regular ballroom dance class every Thursday night at Memorial Presbyterian Church that is free and open to the public.
“Lee and I enjoy dancing so much,” Ken said. “It gives us pleasure to share that with others.
“It is fun to do this,” he added, nodding toward the teens in the room. “Young people progress so quickly.”
Stepping and spinning to the music, EHS students Mason Kechter and Peyton Wilson were all grins as they talked about why they decided to take the class.
“I’m here because Peyton wanted me to come,” Mason said. “I’m an awful dancer.”
“I thought it would be something fun to do,” Peyton said. “I’m not the best dancer either.”
But Mason and Peyton agree this is about more than honing dancing skills; they are both looking forward to the dance.
“I think that’ll be fun,” Peyton said. “Sometimes those older people don’t have a chance to get out and do things.”
Mason knows one of those senior adults very well — his grandfather.
“I’m going to invite him to come,” he said. “My grandmother died a little over a year ago. It’s time for him to get out and hunt him a woman.”

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