It’s a Monday morning and the 16 participants in Sylvania YMCA/JCC’s “Silver Sneakers” exercise class are not having a good time.
The group is mostly active and engaged women–most of them retired–plus a few older guys trying to keep up. But despite the pulsing disco music on the speaker, everyone’s energy level seems low. People grumble at the hand weight workout. No one is smiling.
Then, instructor Dawn Pucak performs some magic. Picking up her iPhone, she scans the playlist and makes a new selection. Suddenly everyone lights up and starts bopping … to the Twist.
“Come on, baby,” sings Chubby Checker. “Take my little hand and go like this.” Indeed, round and round and round they go for three minutes and exuberance reigns for the rest of the session.
“When I’m not sensing a lot of enthusiasm from the class, the Twist is always my go-to dance to change the mood for the participants—and myself,” Dawn explained later.
“I use it because it’s music they can relate to and have fun with. Everyone was doing the Twist when they were teenagers,” Dawn said. “Plus, it raises their heart rate, exercising both their cardio system and surrounding lung muscles. It wakes up their whole body.”
For those of you who don’t know who Chubby Checker is, ask your grandparents. But appreciate that The Twist appears repeatedly as the number one song in Billboard’s “Hot 100” list of all-time rock and roll hits since the 1960s. The Twist dance craze likely first captivated many of the Silver Sneakers crowd at Friday night “sock hops” in school gyms and at the West and South Toledo Ys of that era.
“That’s why I’ve used the Twist for years,” said Dawn. “It works everywhere I go. I’ve had people in wheelchairs and walkers doing the Twist for me.”
The Sylvania-based professional disc jockey named “T.O.” totally agrees with Dawn’s approach. “The goal of the music is to get dancers to connect with the best times of their life. Often this is their teens and 20s, so with the right kind of crowd I pull out Elvis, The Temptations and the Twist.”
T.O. has been in the business 17 years and was named the area’s “Best DJ” and “Best Wedding DJ” for two years running. “The thing about dancing is it makes people forget their problems; it’s almost like hypnosis,” he said. “Once I get a smile on their face, they’ll go anywhere I want to take them.”
Class member Judy Meyer agrees with both of them. “The music brings back such happy memories—back to the time when you could be silly and have fun,” she said. “When I dance the Twist, I feel younger again. Nothing hurts, and all my cares seem to disappear.”
Not surprisingly, science has an explanation for this, according to Dr. Nicole Makey, assistant professor of exercise science at Lourdes University. “As people age, they lose muscle mass. Some of this results from biological factors, but a lot more is from inactivity,” she explained. “Dance is a fantastic way both to counteract muscular atrophy and maintain cardiovascular fitness.”
She added, “There are psychological benefits, too. Any time people engage in physical activity they feel a sense of accomplishment. Dance, in particular, is a social activity that helps older people avoid isolation and be in the company of others their own age.”
It’s possible the Silver Sneakers crowd may occasionally understand this. Some of their best moments are likely behind them. They’ve raised great kids, had rewarding careers, made many good friends. Yet time inevitably commits its thievery and starts to chip away at good memories of earlier times. It’s just human nature to start occasionally feeling older, no matter where you are later in life.
But in Dawn’s class, no one is willing to submit to that impulse. When you see those ladies dancing the Twist at Silver Sneakers on Monday morning, every face is still happy, beautiful … and ageless.
Longtime Sylvania resident Mark Luetke has served on city council, the board of education, and numerous foundation and community boards.