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Everybody dance now: Seniority Dance Company keeps seniors moving

  • Members of the Seniority Dance Company rehearse routines at the Greenfield Senior Center. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Members of the Seniority Dance Company rehearse routines at the Greenfield Senior Center. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Members of the Seniority Dance Company, including Cindy Snow, shown here, rehearse routines at the Greenfield Senior Center. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Members of the Seniority Dance Company rehearse routines at the Greenfield Senior Center. The group meets on Wednesdays from 5:30 to 7 p.m., practicing a variety of styles including contemporary, jazz and modern. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Members of the Seniority Dance Company rehearse routines at the Greenfield Senior Center. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Members of the Seniority Dance Company rehearse routines at the Greenfield Senior Center. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Members of the Seniority Dance Company rehearse routines at the Greenfield Senior Center. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Members of the Seniority Dance Company rehearse routines at the Greenfield Senior Center. Staff Photo/Dan Little



Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Age is just a number.

And inside the John Zon Community Center, they’re rehearsing all sorts of numbers.

Members of Seniority Dance Company occupy the senior center’s group fitness room every Wednesday evening to have fun and practice routines they showcase for local audiences.

“I believe dance has no age limit, that you can dance at any age, if you want to. ... And they’re just so willing to learn choreography and then take that choreography out into the community and perform it,” said choreographer and company co-founder Kathy Steinem. “And they just are so supportive of each other. They’ve become family. And when there are new people that come in, they’re just welcomed, and it’s just fun. We have a really good time moving.”

Healthy bodies, healthy minds

Steinem started Seniority Dance Company in 2015 with Kathy Dunn, who taught dance for years and works as the activities director at the Greenfield Council on Aging, which operates out of the senior center. The dance company is a program of the Greenfield Senior Center, which operates out of the John Zon Community Center at 35 Pleasant St.

The group meets for class and rehearsals Wednesdays from 5:30 to 7 p.m. It is open to women and men, though no men are enrolled. Anyone interested in dance, regardless of ability, is welcome. The company practices a variety of styles, including contemporary, jazz and modern. It is supported by a grant from the Greenfield Local Cultural Council, a local agency supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Dunn and Steinem met roughly 30 years ago running in the same circle of dance instructors. Years ago, Dunn hired Steinem to run a Zumba class, and eventually, they decided to start a dance company for seniors.

“We were both instructors and instructing senior adults, and thought it would be a great idea for us to get a group together of people who love to dance and love to perform,” Dunn said.

Dunn said the constant movement, memorization of steps and creativity that dance demands help keep seniors’ minds healthy, making the program a highly beneficial one for local residents.

“The musicality, the socialization, it’s all of the things that we need as we age,” Dunn said. “Dance is one of the best ways to keep young and keep fit.”

Getting together on a weekly basis also fosters bonds between the dancers while they improve on their routines.

“The older I get, the more fun it is for me to be with dancers, seniors,” said Steinem, 68, of Colrain. “They have such a great time and they may not feel as if they could perform … but they’re just developing. They really shine.”

Dunn agreed that she loves “seeing a group of people get together and actually accomplishing something together, regardless of age, regardless of life experience and regardless of dance experience.”

Happy feet

Shelley Uguccioni, who turns 65 this month, has been involved since the beginning. She said the company helped her shake off the rust that developed after not having danced in about 15 years. Her parents signed her up for dance lessons as an outlet for energy when she was a 3-year-old girl in Illinois.

“It fills my soul. It makes me happy,” the Colrain resident said. “I’m just really grateful to the senior center for allowing us to have this. It’s a great thing for all of us.

“I like the companionship, and I love the music, and I love my teacher,” she added. “She’s a really good teacher.”

Roberta “Bobbie” Stuart, 65, agrees, having become friends with Steinem more than 30 years ago, when their husbands worked together. She danced as a child and got back into the art form when she took Steinem’s tap class at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the 1980s. Her friendship with Steinem brought her to the Seniority Dance Company.

“When (Kathy Steinem) started teaching here, I just started coming,” Stuart said, adding that dance is “just a fun way to exercise. And it’s a great way to meet new people.

“I remember the days when my mother was sitting in a nursing home, looking for people to come in and do a few things. So, it’s been nice to do that,” Stuart continued. “I’d rather dance than use the machines (at a gym).”

Preparing for crowd-pleasing performances

The group of about a dozen dancers is focusing on a performance at The Arbors assisted-living facility at 2 p.m. on Oct. 18, and one at Greenfield Community College with the GCC Dance Performance Project on Oct. 31.

One of the numbers they’ll perform at GCC on Halloween is a routine to Rockapella’s rendition of “Zombie Jamboree.” As the music began to play during rehearsals, the dancers began by walking like the undead, limbs stiff and footsteps heavy, to the center of the dance floor, where after a three-second break in the song, they broke out grooving to the lyrics of the tune. “Back to back, belly to belly, it’s a Zombie Jamboree.”

With a mixture of high and low notes blended with a welcomed lightheartedness, the song bears a resemblance to the Halloween favorite “Monster Mash,” which the Seniority Dance Company members perform with the merriment of schoolgirls.

Room 113, the dance studio of the John Zon Community Center, provides a cool comfort from the stuffy heat outside. The buffed pinewood floor shines like the faces of the dancers who watch their technique in the mirrors in the front of the room. Yoga mats and dumbbells rest off to the side as dance company members practice their routines.

In between takes, the dancers walk around to stay loose, drink from water bottles and cool themselves down with hand fans. The routines include “Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel, “Think” by Aretha Franklin, and Cuban-American star Camila Cabello’s hit “Havana,” which dance company member Stanislawa “Asha” Szychowski loves.

Szychowski, 71, began to dance in Warsaw, Poland, when she learned to walk, and started with ballroom-style dancing. She took ballroom classes (and later competed in the genre) and eventually fell in love with Argentine tango. She said she enjoys music and dance from all corners of the globe, and she can translate much of it to her feet because of her familiarity with tango.

She said she joined the dance company after hearing an advertisement on the radio when the practices were held on High Street. Szychowski explained she can leave the outside world at the door when she goes to the senior center to dance.

“I love it, oh my goodness,” she said. “I enjoy it very much.”

The joy the company brings to its members is perhaps best exemplified by an email Stuart sent to Dunn two years ago.

The email, time-stamped at 6:59 a.m. on Sept. 30, 2016, reads, in part, “Kathy Steinem is a wonderful teacher and is so encouraging to our diverse group of seniors. Although many of us have little or no experience, she has turned us into enthusiastic dancers. It has been rewarding to perform at the Arbors and the Soldiers Home, and I hope that Kathy S. will be able to work with us in the future. Thanks so much for providing this opportunity to dance, to make new friends, and (I hope!) to bring some pleasure to seniors less able to get out and move with us.”

Domenic Poli started working for the Greenfield Recorder in 2016 and covers Deerfield, Sunderland, Whately and Conway. He can be reached at dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.