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Dancing through life

Published April 10. 2010 09:00AM

When we think of special days of the week, few think of Mondays.

Throughout working careers, people live for weekends. But few say, "Goodie, it's Monday."

Friends suggested my husband and I turn Mondays into something special by attending the Monday night dances at a local cultural center.

"They play the kind of music we love to dance to - cha-chas, rumba, foxtrot, swing - even tangos," said my friend, Jan. With that kind of endorsement, we had to try it.

We found the Monday night dances to be everything my friend promised they would be.

We also found two things we didn't expect - inspiration and wonderful stories.

As soon as the music started, a couple exuding energy was the first ones on the dance floor. As we watched them doing a lively Swing, our friends mentioned that the guy was 91 and his partner was in her 80s.

"No way," I said. The more I watched them, the more I knew they couldn't be close to that age.

When there was a break in the music, I went over to the energetic couple and introduced myself. Within seconds, we were chatting like old friends.

"Sure, I'm 91," said the congenial guy. His partner, Vie, is a younger woman. She's 83.

Both are absolutely charming and have a sweet story to tell.

When Mel lost his wife two years ago, he also lost his desire to dance. They were married 63 years and did everything together.

Last year, when Mel went to visit his family, his son took him out to hear a dance band. It rekindled Mel's desire to dance, but he had no partner.

A volunteer at the cultural center knew the perfect dance partner for Mel.

Vie has always loved to dance. And, she's good at it. She won "a whole lot of ballroom dance contests." But after her husband died 16 years ago, she hasn't had a steady dance partner.

"Gigi told me she was going to send someone my way who could dance. That was great, but when she told me he was 90 years old, I started to laugh. I said, 'I don't think I'm strong enough to hold him up,'" recalled Vie.

Minutes after meeting Mel, she knew that was one worry she didn't need to have. He could hold his own on the dance floor. Best yet, they were in perfect sync.

Now, they are good friends and perfect dance partners, going dancing several times each week.

"We danced seven out of the last nine nights," smiled Mel.

In addition to again finding happiness on the dance floor, Mel says he lost something, too. "Excess weight! I lost 16 pounds from all this dancing and I feel absolutely wonderful," he enthuses.

Vie says she, too, lost weight from all their dancing. "I'm down to 105 pounds. That's what I weighed on my wedding day a long time ago."

Both Vie and Mel lead all-around active lifestyles. She walks and swims and volunteers at several places. Mel plays golf and bridge and gets in plenty of walking. "But I love dancing best," he says. "It keeps me young."

Anyone who sees them on the dance floor can vouch for that.

I walked away from that couple smiling. How inspirational they are. Back at our table, friends introduced me to a couple equally inspirational.

Betty, who will be 78 in May, and Buck, 83, are partners in life as well as on the dance floor. They live down the hall from each other in their condo building.

"When our spouses were living, we all did things together. After our spouses died, Buck eventually had a proposition for me," recalls Betty.

"He said if I would be his gal, he would take dance lessons with me and we would go to Australia."

He more than kept his promise. They have taken dance lessons from several teachers, did the Australian cruise and have sailed to exotic places around the world. This year alone they have done six cruises.

A perfect pair on the dance floor as well as off, they say they are having more fun than anyone is entitled to have.

While others may admire their smoothness on the dance floor, what they don't see are the disabilities Buck and Betty have to overcome in order to dance.

At one point Buck was paralyzed from Guillain-Barre Syndrome. At least two doctors said the paralysis would be permanent before he found one that helped.

Rheumatoid arthritis has ruined his feet. "I have no arches, no bones left. I have osteoarthritis, curvature of the spine and had to have the knuckles in the hands replaced with artificial ones," said Buck.

While pain is his constant companion and he has a hard time walking, one would never believe that when watching him on the dance floor.

Betty, too, has her share of pain and medical problems. "If I sit down, I often can't get back up," she admits.

But something transforms the two of them on the dance floor.

"People see us limp onto the floor but then we turn into dancers," said Buck. "Something magical happens when the music starts."

"They are simply inspirational," said my friend, Jan. They are indeed.

Their enthusiasm for life is contagious.

It impossible to watch couples like Buck and Betty and Mel and Vie without catching a dose of energy and inspiration.

What they teach others is that we can sit in chairs and complain about the pains of aging. Or, we can dance through life, making the most of every day.

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