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The Senior Sliders

April 29, 2015

A group of dancers at the Central Area Senior Center inspire us to boot-scoot and boogie into the senior years.

It is 9:45 a.m. on a Tuesday at the Central Area Senior Center, and the front desk is buzzing with activity. A shuttle bus is about to board for a trip to a local casino, and a group of about ten seniors energetically talk about their prior winning streaks, a favorite game, or their optimism for the day. Among the group, Ann King, who teaches the dance class starting in a few minutes, banters with the crowd, jovially teasing the single man joining the trip that he will be among a bus full of ladies. As the crowd departs, she reminds them to join her class next week. Moments later she enters the cafeteria turned-dance-floor, and while she may have lost some students that day to the casino outing, the room is still lined wall-to-wall with folks ready to groove.

The Senior Sliders dance group has been a staple at the Central Area Senior Center since the late '80s. Originating as a fitness class, dancing, specifically line dancing, became the exercise of choice. The Senior Sliders occasionally take their show on the road, as well to other senior centers and events, notably the World Dance Party, a multi-generational and multi-cultural potluck and dance that springs up in different community locations every few months.

King has been the leader of the Senior Sliders for the past 11 years, a position handed down to her by prior leader Violet Horton before her passing and a position in which she takes great pride. Reflecting on the impact the group and the senior center has had on her life, she notes, “The center, it does a lot for me. I can come here and I can just relax amongst family. The center is a family — it’s like I’m going home. That’s a big impact in my life.”
Instructor Ann King calls out the next steps
Among the most active members of the center's family is 90-year-old Senior Slider Gloria Sandoz. Dressed in vibrant pink and front and center during the class, dancing is just one of the many activities that fills her days. When she’s not line dancing twice a week, she is likely participating in one of the center’s many activities, such as jewelry making, quilting, computer class, playing bingo, or another of her favorite activities, bowling.

When asked whether she felt like her level of activity was the exception rather than the norm for someone her age, Gloria notes, “Well, I don’t know what it is to feel like 90, because I don’t know what 90 feels like. I am very active … I think you need to be out and doing things in order to keep well.”  She also notes that some of her peers are hesitant to join the activities of the senior center. She muses, “I think they don’t want to be around old people … I think they get the impression this is a nursing home.”

Reframing the conversation around aging is one of the goals of Senior Services, the nonprofit agency that supports the Central Area Senior Center and several affiliated senior centers throughout King County. Karen Bystrom, marketing and communications director at Senior Services, states, “Our giant goal would be to change our culture related to aging and getting older. That it’s something not to fear, it’s something to embrace. We celebrate a youth culture and we actually tell people to keep from aging. We’d like to change that, and make this stage in your life as exciting and positive as any other stage.”   
A Senior Slider's pair of dancing shoes

Along with changing the conceptions of aging, there is also a focus on creating supportive communities and outlets for seniors to prevent isolation. Dian Ferguson, director of the Central Area Senior Center, adds, “We are a community of people who want to come together, share something as simple as coffee and muffins in the morning. They want to know they belong in a place, and there’s lots of laughter here as well.”

Ann King and the Senior Sliders are more than ready to embrace old age, line dancing into their senior years and having a lot of fun on the ride.

“Never say you’re too old. You know, just come out and try what you can do and you’ll feel better about yourself and just have fun. We all just have to get together and get old together (laughs), and we’re still happy.”


Aileen Imperial

Aileen Imperial is a multimedia and documentary producer with a commitment to thoughtful observation and engagement. Her work has aired nationally on the PBS American Masters series, PBS NewsHour, and she is a 4-time Emmy winner for feature videos in the Arts, Culture, and Human Interest. Find her on Twitter: @imperealize

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