An exercise in building community

Instructor Kathy Andruss, 67, takes the stage at 9 a.m. sharp, donning her headset and best workout clothing. She turns up the dance version of a '90s hit tune and the seniors halt their conversations, hurrying to the center of the floor, eager to get moving.

With a march, step and kick, they move across the wood floor with more grace and energy than one might expect from a group of senior citizens.

About 30 seniors head to the Costa Mesa Senior Center on 19th Street three times a week for Andruss' aerobics class. While the class is a way to stay physically fit for many of the students, whose ages range from 60 to 95, it means a great deal more than that to most, said Norm Snow, 90.

"This class means everything to me," he said. "We're all friends; we've been together a long time."

Snow and his wife, Janet, started taking Andruss' class in 1988 at the Costa Mesa Community Center.

"I had just retired at the time," he said. "We went to the community center and we saw people exercising and thought we should do that. That was the beginning."

When the class moved to the senior center in 1992, the Snows moved with it, and when his wife's health declined in 2008, he continued to attend.

The class meets Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the multipurpose room of the senior center. Seniors pay $10 per week to participate, but Norm Snow and his friends say the cost of the class is well worth it.

Shirley Brisacher, 76, identifies herself as a newcomer to the group, having begun taking the class just three years ago. The sense of community and camaraderie is what brings her back each week.

After class ended Wednesday morning, Brisacher and a group of other women stayed behind to swap books.

"We come to trade books as well," she said. "This class doubles as a library, but the exercise is good too."

While the 90-minute class is fast-moving, Andruss encourages everyone to go at his or her own pace, speaking words of encouragement through the multipurpose room speakers.

Several Golden West College nursing students participated in the class Wednesday as part of their course work. After 30 minutes of class, several were visibly winded and a few stepped out for water as the seniors danced on.

"They were doing circles around us," said Jennifer Haan, a first-semester nursing student. "[The instructor] told us to go to the back because we couldn't keep up."

Andruss has been teaching the aerobics class, which she calls a "big party," for 28 years.

"I've always taught this class as an advanced class," she said. "I like pushing them and seeing what they can do. It's like a family."

Carolyn Howard, a 69-year-old retired nurse, points to the community Andruss creates as the reason so many are invested in the class.

"You don't mind setting your alarm in the morning to get up and do this," she said. "If you miss a class, people are wondering where you are. We all know one another. Kathy's the one that makes the whole thing."

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