Leaps to longevity

They might have lived through World War II and Neil Armstrong's moon landing, but don't expect age to put a damper in their step. For many seniors who have become part of a growing dance movement, the cha-cha, waltz or rumba is a way of life.

This cultural art form that has been a part of ceremonies and celebrations for eons exists as the foundation for a movement that is replacing the loneliness and inactivity many seniors suffer from with social circles and renewed energy.

Paul Maure, a renowned ballet instructor at the Burbank Media Dance Centre, would know — he's been dancing for 68 years.

"I want to keep teaching," he said. "I haven't stopped dancing since 1942."

While he teaches various levels of ballet and loves watching advanced students dance, Maure has worked with famed choreographers like George Balanchine and danced with the Grand Ballet de Monte Carlo.

While traveling the world as a dancer for 15 years, Maure has performed with several companies and picked up a few languages in the process. At 84, he has no plans to slow down and scoffs at the thought of retiring.

"I think it's the most wonderful job in the world," he said.

Like Maure, 79-year-old Natalie Middleton, who teaches tap at Burbank Media Dance Centre, has a history with dancing. She's been tapping since she was a child.

"I've performed all my life, and I've always been extremely active," Middleton said. "I can't imagine anyone not being active, although there are seniors who hang up their shoes and sit on the couch."

Middleton, who performed in the "Our Gang" (also known as "The Little Rascals") series made in the 1930s and '40s and appeared in many Marx Brothers films, was also a professional opera singer, performing with the San Francisco Opera and retiring from singing when she turned 60.

She will probably teach as long as her brain stays with her, she said.

"It's in your blood, and it doesn't go out of your blood, it really doesn't," she said.

While the dance teachers at the Burbank Media Dance Centre perfect the pirouettes and heel-steps of their students, seniors like Janet Eggleston have their dancing shoes on in full force across town at Glendale's Moose Lodge.

Although Eggleston's work in the Superior Court kept her off the dance floor for years, at 62 years old, she's reprised her passion for dancing and is now involved with several local dance associations and centers, including the Moose Lodge, which is bustling with senior dancers ready to hustle or ballroom dance on any given night of the week.

"It's good therapy," Eggleston said. "I put so much effort into work, and now that I'm not working, it's so nice to get back to this."

Like Eggleston, Burbank resident Bill Wiechmann can be found dancing at the Moose Lodge frequently. Once part of the Megglin Kiddies, a dance troupe that produced such talents as Shirley Temple and Judy Garland, Wiechmann has been coming to dance at the lodge for 10 years.

"It's refreshing and relaxing," he said. "I enjoy the company and the friendship."

Glendale resident Darlene Paige, 72, who has been involved with the lodge since 1957 and now bartends there, considers it her home and its members her family.

She has reaped the health benefits of dancing and staying active.

"I have rheumatoid arthritis, and the more I dance, the better I feel," she said. "There's nothing more beautiful and more romantic than dancing, even if you're not with the one you love."

Donna Heselbarth, 66, another dancer at the Moose Lodge, said the pain she had in her back due to arthritis has disappeared since she began dancing.

Arthritis isn't the only ailment that exercise like dancing can help alleviate, according to Dr. Mike Neskovic, who specializes in geriatrics and has been practicing in Glendale for 22 years.

Dancing helps blood circulation and lymphatic circulation, which is important to immunity as well as overall health, he said.

"People who dance are usually the happiest and healthiest," he said, adding that seniors should start dancing slowly and progress from there.

And for those who might be hesitant to get on the dance floor, Wiechmann advises them to not be afraid.

"Someone once said to me that if I made a mistake, I'm the only one who knew it," he said. "Keep moving, nobody knows."

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