Dance Your Way To A Healthy And Happy Retirement.

Dance Your Way To A Healthy And Happy Retirement.

I used to think dancing is something young people did in noisy downtown bars or nightclubs. There were two varieties, the free-style sixties dance and the cowboy line dance. I thought dancers were mostly inebriated or snorting something or both. I thought dance clubs were noisy, with loud obnoxious music and dirty.

Then I met Paul Mallin. I met him at the gym where I train. He is slim and in excellent physical shape for a man in his 80s. He explained to me that he is having the time of his life, traveling the world, teaching dance and judging dance contests. He was just back from Spain and Portugal where people entertained him in their own homes. He is off to Argentina and Brazil for more of the same. Warren Buffet says he skips his way to work every morning. Paul dances his way to work. I wanted what he had.

Was such a thing possible for the average retiree? I wondered. We need to do something to keep our minds active. I could be working crossword puzzles or sudokus. But that didn't appeal to me. Instead, I decided to learn dancing. I already know something about how to dance. There were years of weddings, bar mitzvahs and valentine's day parties. I knew some of the basics, but mostly, (and don't tell anyone), I was faking it. Doing the minimum to keep the ladies happy, not confident and not really engaged in doing it right.

I decided I had many years to learn all the dances and I discovered the thrill of competency. I am begining to feel confident, and to really enjoy the active lifestyle.

The Health Benefits of Dance

Dancing can (1) boost memory (2) improve flexibility (3) reduce stress (4) diminish depression (4) help your heart (5) help loose weight (6) balance better (7) increase energy and (8) make friends.

Weather and Dancing

I live in the Chicago suburbs which are mostly known for its polar vortexes and is called "The Windy City". Being outdoors is just not possible for a few months of the year. I wanted an indoor place to exercise, meet people, socialize and have fun. Especially, something that didn't involve eating, drinking alcohol or spending a lot of money.

Types of dance places

There are three types of dance places. Nightclubs, Dance Studios and Community Centers. The nightclubs, bars and saloons are interested in selling drinks and dancers are generally not drinkers. Therefore there are not many saloons that cater to dancing and if they do, they have a tiny dance floor and provide little encouragement for dancing.

Dance studios are owned by professional dancers. Most are geared to little children, ballerinas in tutus are a huge and growing business, but there are some that cater to adults. They usually have the best quality of dance instruction and the highest ratio of dance instructors to students. This is the place to go to hone your skills. They also have a vested interest in seeing that everyone is happy, that everyone has a good experience, has dance partners and wants to come back. Dance studios are concerned with their reputation. They want their students to dance correctly to show the world. The downside of dance studios is that the sessions end early as the instuctors want to go home to their families.

Community centers are the other place for dancing. Often they are organized by a dance instuctor who doesn't have a studio. They are not pushing beverages. If they have a dance lesson, it is usually a large group with little personal attention.
They are wonderful places to go to have fun, meet people, but usually not a good place to challenge skills. The bottom line is that you should go to all of these places. See what you like. See if you fit in with the crowd. Some crowds might be better than others for your tastes.


Most of the venues mentioned have lessons available. For example a popular arrangement is to have group lessons at 7pm and open dance at 8pm. Group lessons usually cost between $5 and $15 for the hour. You can usually find private lessons for $50 to $70 per hour with a discount if you buy 10 at a time.

You can also borrow instruction videos from the library. You can watch them at home and try it in front of a mirror. There are also a lot of instuctional videos on youtube. I find the one hour group lessons to be sufficient, as I am not in a hurry to be perfected.

Styles of Dances

There are many types of dances. Dances have popularity surges. Also some styles have regional attraction. Texas Two-Step is popular in Texas. East Coast Swing is popular on the East Coast. The Salsa is popular among Latinos. Some dances live forever, like The Waltz. Some come and go, like The Twist. I would recommend you learn whatever they are teaching. The instuctors know what is popular and fun and try to steer you in that direction. I personally like the West Coast Swing. It is among the harder dances to learn. They say it looks sexy.

Women love to dance.

Women love to dance. Men also, but more women. I think it is because of the ballet lessons when they were little. Twirling around and saying "Watch Me, Daddy!" As a result there are often more women at a dance event then men. This is never a problem if there is a dance instructor present. The dance instructor will make sure that everyone dances with everyone else. They rotate partners. I have danceed with old and young. That is what I like about dancing, that it is a true mixing of ages and social categories.

Dance Partners

When you see a couple dancing well together, most people assume they are romantically involved. They may not be. Some people have long-term dance partners. Maybe they compete together or are just friends.

I went to a dance studio for a Salsa lesson. After the lesson they had open dance starting with several rounds of music for Salsa dancing. Then the disk jockey, the owner of the studio started playing other types of dance music. I sat down. I didn't know how to dance The Tango. A nice young lady came up to me and asked me to dance. I told her, "I'd love to dance, but I don't know how to do The Tango." She said "I'll teach you." And I danced with her for one song. The same thing happened for the next dance, with a different lady. It happened six times. People at the dance studios are so nice. They are advanced students and they want to see everyone dancing and enjoying the sport as they do. They also invited me to go with them for something to eat afterwards.

Tom Villardo invited me to Fermi National Laboratories in Batavia, Illinois. It is one of the labs where they do physics research by smashing particles and measuring things called quarks. Scientists come from all over the world to participate in these experiments. On their vast wooded campus, there is a village where the visiting scientists live and a barn for dancing. Several times a week they have square dancing. Square dancing is more about moving in tandem with other people and not so much about footwork. And you get to dance with everyone. What a fun time! It was also curious for me to see foreign scientists participate in square dancing. They must think that all Americans do this.

So why are you sitting at home? Get yourselves a pair of leather-soled shoes and get out on the dance floor! It is a good way to get exercise, keep your mind sharp, keep your body flexible, meet interesting people and have fun.