At Senior Center, never too old to get a groove


Amy Oleson/The Daily Iowan
Members of the Senior Center Dance and Drill team rehearse at the Senior Center on Wednesday. The team dances to such songs as “Rock around the Clock,” “Respect,” and “Jailhouse Rock.”
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While halftime Hawkeye courts and Homecoming parade routes are typically center stage for university cheer squads, another dance team in town is serving up some competition. And not one of these ladies is under 60 years old.

For five years, this group of Iowa City’s finest, flexible elders have worked weekly to polish their jazz, swing, and funk dance moves as the Senior Center Dance and Drill Team.

They’ve received requests from young and old alike to perform routines to such songs as “Jailhouse Rock,” “Respect,” and “On Iowa.” And from pelvic twists to high kicks, they’ll do whatever it takes to bring a crowd to its feet.

“Contrary to public opinion, it isn’t all walkers and canes once you pass 60,” said 77-year-old dancer Shirley Myers.

Myers, an original member of the group, said she never tires of the public’s response to the team’s showmanship and skill.

“It’s great that we get to show people that the Senior Center is not just a bunch of old people sitting around doing nothing active,” said 70-year-old Trish Jensen.

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Jensen, who got her team-spirit start as a high-school majorette in the 1950s, is one the team’s younger members. Ann Kearney is the ensemble’s self-proclaimed baby of the group at 62, and Bert Harding leads the pack at 81.

“Weekly practices are great for us,” Myers said. “It keeps you flexible and makes you actively think when you’re well past 25 years old.”

What is now a tightly choreographed ensemble of pompon-punctuated dances and cheers began as a single, minute-long performance of the Napoleon Dynamite dance made famous in a scene from the 2004 feature film. Following the popularity of that performance, Myers’ daughter Pam Myers started choreographing dances for the group set to timeless tunes.

Elvis’ “Jail House Rock” backed the original routine and a year-round dance program blossomed, attracting elderly gals looking for exercise and fun. And the publicity that comes with it keeps these ladies smiling too, they said.

“This isn’t something that your average grandma is out doing,” said 70-year-old dancer Shirley Dvorak.

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An active lifestyle while aging increases independent living and overall health, according to studies by the Hebrew University Medical Center.

The women warmed up Wednesday evening to “Kokomo,” limbering up with fluid arm stretches and side steps. Then, with black and gold pompons in hand, they amped up their pace with some twists, shakes, and spirited smiles set to “Rock around the Clock.”

They learned moves to their newest number, Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” which had them throwing pompons to the ground, shaking their hips, and spinning with style.

“You’ve got to get your funk on,” Pam Myers yelled as they learned the steps. Though the high-energy dance numbers were worthy of brief water breaks, the dancers panted through a full hour of rehearsal.

When devising new dance routines for the drill team, Pam Myers said she will typically have one dance move in mind to structure the rest of the song around.

Before getting involved with the senior citizen team, she said, her dance and choreography experience was very minimal, limited to small-scale community plays or show choirs.

Now, her team dances to crowds in ballrooms and arenas. They’re invited to the University of Iowa women’s basketball halftime shows, Dance Marathons, and Homecoming parades. Local nursing homes often beckon the girls to entertain their residents as well.

“I find these women very inspirational, that they are wanting to do this at their age,” said Pam Myers, who is also the director of finance and human resources for University Relations. “They’re not at all set in their ways about what they can and can not do.”

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