April 1, 2010

Dance Fever: Remedy for Midlife Blues

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – They are the mothers of reinvention, golden girls who were tired of sitting on the sidelines when the line dancing started.
Step by step they are learning to boot scoot and grapevine like nobody's business, thanks to instructor Sharon Dobbie and a new class at the Parks and Rec building.
By popular demand, the beginners line dance class launched last week especially for those whose electric slide is in need of a power surge.
Elaine Connors elaborates.
“A majority of us joined H2U, a program at Parkland Medical Center for healthy living. Part of that includes dinner dances, and there we were, unable to do the line dances,” says Connors.
She explains that H2U is part of a national membership program to engage people in managing their own health, through nutrition, education and exercise. Parkland is one of about 100 or so affiliated hospitals, and the only one in New Hampshire, according to the organization's website, www.h2u.com.
Coordinating their dance moves is the next step toward better health, said Sue Rizzo, who said most of the women in the class began with daily walking to battle mid-life bulge and keep everything in working order.
Bonnie Ritvo, of Londonderry says for her, it has been a life saver.
“My sugar was out of control until I started exercising every day, about six months ago. Now, it's down where it's supposed to be and I don't have to consider insulin,” Ritvo says.
“And after we exercise, we all go out to eat together, so we watch what she eats, too,” Rizzo says.
Wednesday mornings at 10 a.m. they assemble, so far a dozen strong, and take their places in the gym as Dobbie eases them into some of the basics, including the grapevine and the jazzbox.
“OK – five, six, seven, eight – side, behind, side touch, to the left, behind, side touch,” Dobbie stands in the front and counts out the steps while looking over her shoulder, to see if everyone is with her. Connors is shaking her head in frustration and moves up a row to get a closer look at Dobbie's feet, which glide smoothy across the wooden floor, the fringe on her well-worn cowboy boots fluttering with every beat.
The ladies are all tentative and moving in various directions, urging Dobbie to go over the moves “one more time” for the third time when Dobbie decides they're ready.
“I'm going to put on the music,” she says, as the women resist. “You'll see how the music guides you along.”
And sure enough, they swirl in a synchronized Canadian stroll that belies their beginner status.
Ruth Parent, of Auburn, who also knows her way around a dance floor and is there to assist Dobbie, hangs with the ladies in the back. She is acutely aware that fitness over 50 is not just a way to pass the hours. According to a recent JAMA study, released earlier this month, 60 minutes of daily exercise is essential for women over 50 simply to maintain their weight.
“The best way to start is walking. It's a natural progression to something like this, because after a while, you're ready for more of a challenge,” Parent says.
Eventually, those who master the moves will likely “graduate” to the Friday intermediate line dance class, a popular fixture at the recreation center.
But for now, they are content to count out the beats and request as many do-overs as necessary to get their heel-toe boogie down pat.
Marlene Damiano said she is enjoying the beginners class, but knows her limitations. “The first dance I can't too, there's too much aerobics,” she said.
Beyond beating the endless battle of the bulge, these women have already figured out that daily exercise is also essential to maintaining energy, health and friendships. Learning something new is as good for the heart as it is for the soul.
“We have a great time together. When you get lost you just stop, regroup and jump back in,” said Marie Pollock. “And when you leave, you know you were here – you can feel it, but in a good way.”

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