The buzz of energy is high as people grab a partner and twirl across the dance floor to old Spanish songs.
This is how many older Valencia County residents keep in shape. It’s a lifestyle of inspired movement and social exchange.
Seniors from the county put on their dancing shoes and start boogying by 10 a.m., every Tuesday at the senior center in Belen, every Wednesday in Los Lunas and every Thursday in Rio Communities. By noon, they’re ready for the lunch that follows.
They follow the circuit from one senior center to the next, following the live bands that so graciously volunteer their time and talents.
Many of these folks can’t seem to get enough, so they also travel to Albuquerque for more.
The energy is incredible and irresistible. The music is good and the smiling faces are encouraging. The dance floor is usually packed and the music is invigorating.
“It’s good for stress,” said Olimpia Herrera, beaming a big, beautiful smile, just glowing with exuberance.
Her doctor recommended she go dancing three times a week, so she has an excuse to have fun.
“It feels good,” she said. “It raises my spirits.”
The seniors say they enjoy the dancing, and it gives them their exercise.
The health benefits of exercise are well known and include cardiovascular and muscular strength, body flexibility, coordination, lung capacity, bone strength and weight control, among others. Another big perk is the social aspects of camaraderie with other dancers.
Several of the seniors are widows and widowers. They like the companionship at the dances. They aren’t timid about grabbing a partner for a dance, either.
“I love to dance, and I love to exercise,” said Estella Chick, who plays bingo every day, and shoots pool, too.
“Everybody knows me here,” she said.
Belen resident Johnny Maestas became a runner when he hit his 50s. As he began to feel the common signs of aging, he decided he would get in shape. He has run marathons at the state and national levels.
“I ran the 1,500 meter race in the San Francisco Bay,” Maestas said. “I didn’t get anything, but I got in good shape.”
He has also been climbing Tomé Hill for the past 25 years, carrying a cross during the annual pilgrimage.
Last October, Maestas was hit by a car at a gas station. He flew several feet and ended up with a broken nose. He could hardly move after the accident, but his dancing buddies soon got him out of the house and up and dancing.
“Pauline makes everybody move,” Maestas said.
“The way I look at it, music and dancing is good for the physical and the spiritual realms,” Pauline Chavez said. “I think it’s good for both. Ever since I’ve been going, I’m happy. It gets my serotonin levels up, and lifts my spirits.”
Chavez not only dances, she is a singer and plays guitar. She sings Okie style, Spanish songs, Tennessee music and country and western.
Friends and family say she is very talented, but she points out her sister, Dolores Rivera, as the one with all the talent.
Rivera was an actress at the Little Theater of Santa Fe.
“I was an amateur actress, singer,” Rivera said smiling.
She dated actor Ryan O’Neal a few times, Chavez said of her sister.
Rivera tries to jar her memory for the type of dance she and O’Neal did together. Then it comes to her with the help of her friends. They did the twist.
The sisters grew up with singing and dancing as a part of life.
“Our parents would take us to parties and matanzas,” Rivera said.
“My uncle owned a bar over in Blue Springs where everybody went dancing,” Chavez adds.
Maestas said he and his siblings danced together since they were children.
“When family came — cousins — we moved everything to the side of the wall,” he said. “And my brother played the accordion.”
He’s no stranger to the dance circuit, either. He used to come to the dances with his 91-year-old sister until she died last year.
“My sister wouldn’t miss one dance, and she had Alzheimer’s,” Maestas said.
According to research by the New England Journal of Medicine, dancing is the greatest dementia risk reducer of any activity studied, cognitive or physical, such as reading, which had a 35 percent reduction in risk.
Bicycling and swimming showed no improvement, doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week showed a 47 percent reduction in risk, playing golf had no discernible difference, but dancing frequently provided a whopping 76 percent reduction in the risk of dementia.
Richard Fredricks has been participating to the dances for about six years. He is also involved in Senior Olympics, and said dancing the day after playing basketball was a good way to loosen up.
“And it’s a lot of fun,” Fredricks said. “These (activities) keep me young.”
“Music makes us move, whether we can or not,” Maestas said. “We don’t remember our achy bones.”
“This is my medicine when I’m sick,” said Belen resident Christina Roberts. “Dancing is the best feeling. It makes you forget all your problems.”
The Belen Senior Center will hold a special Valentine’s Dance at 10 a.m., Tuesday, Feb. 14.
For more information about the dances, call the Belen Senior Center at 864-6739, the Fred Luna Senior Center in Los Lunas at 839-3853, and the Del Rio Senior Center in Rio Communities at 864-7500.
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