dancing across generations

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Today , I attended the ‘Fall Formal’ dance hosted by a local assisted-living community in conjunction with the Honors College of my university. I was happy I could do my part and participate as well as soak in the details in a place I had never before visited. I talked to several residents while I was there. Gerald, Ron, Annalisa, and Betty all were delighted that we, the students, came to visit and dance with them. I was unsure what to expect and where to go upon arrival, but hand-made signs with arrows showed me to the right door, which opened to the large community room. Here’s a short description that I wrote for a class about my wonderful afternoon.


With a twinkle in her eye, she grabs the handsome man’s hand and asks him to dance.

The woman is 95, and her name is Betty. The man is a 20-year-old business economics student named John, and he has a huge smile on his face.

The room is warm, the sun is shining through the tall windows, and “The Tennessee Waltz” plays from the corner stereo.

The room is decorated in fall fashion, bright orange tablecloths and colorful streamers and pumpkins line the room from tiled ceiling to wooden floor. Lemon bars, cookies, trail mix, cheese trays, and Hawaiian punch are scattered across several tables, pushed together like a large family on Thanksgiving day.

The men wear collared shirts and big, toothy (or toothless) grins. The women wear cozy sweaters and wedding rings that would now be considered vintage.

At the tables, the small talk is heard amongst the echoes of “huh?” as the students shift their volume to ensure the audience full participation in the conversation. The topics range from jokes to Jackrabbit football, hometowns to husbands, and age to agriculture.

The music shifted between three genres: waltz, polka, and country. Whether it was a student dancing with a student or a student dancing with someone who appeared old enough to be a grandparent, all dancing was encouraged. For some, the fast-paced Jitterbugging days were behind them, and for some, they were just learning how.

Gerald, for instance, enjoyed dancing with his wife but stated “I’m not young like I used to be!” as he took slow, soft steps. Ron had stated earlier that he always enjoys watching Gerald and his wife when they dance.

Ron was tenderly caring for his wife, Annalisa, who sat at his side after he had retrieved her from the nursing home part of the facility. Annalisa would reach for the trail mix, only for Ron to move it out of distance.

Ron said, “Annalisa has a gluten intolerance, so today I better make sure she sticks to the cheese.”

The song ‘Footloose’ inspired all of the SDSU students to show the United Living residents the popular line dance. The group of students gathered in several lines and hopped, skipped, and danced to the song as the residents smiled and clapped from the tables.

According to a freshman at the event, “I learned it at swing dancing lessons, and now we do it at every barn dance! I think nearly every SDSU student knows it.”

As the dancing slowed to a halt and the music faded, the words “Thank You” were uttered by nearly all of the attendees, with smiles and continued conversation about future opportunities to visit. Wheelchair wheels squeak and the students who’ve kicked off their shoes to dance comfortably begin to pull on their high-heeled shoes as the two generations part ways… until next time.

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