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How dancing to the hit tunes of your era is a great way to keep fit

PUBLISHED: 10:39 19 June 2014 | UPDATED: 10:42 19 June 2014

The BSO Tea Dance at Lighthouse, Poole.

The BSO Tea Dance at Lighthouse, Poole.

Hattie Miles 07907 645897

Tripping the light fantastic to hit tunes from your era is a great way to keep fit and meet new friends, so come join the tea dance

Colin Johnson and Maureen Chalker are regulars at the Lighthouse tea dances.Colin Johnson and Maureen Chalker are regulars at the Lighthouse tea dances.

The band strikes up and Bert and Joan Kings glide onto the dance-floor. The couple, both in their mid 80s, are in their element. A bit of Gershwin, a spot of Mancini, some vintage Sinatra – it’s classic old school dance floor fodder.

The difference is that this isn’t a glittering ballroom or even a dancehall. We are in a fairly nondescript function room at Poole’s Lighthouse Centre for the Arts and it’s 2.45 in the afternoon.

Bert and Joan, from Wareham, are among dozens of keen dancers who attend regular tea dance sessions staged by Poole Borough Council’s Arts Service in association with Lighthouse and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO).

“It’s absolutely perfect for us,” explained Bert, an 85-year-old retired chief inspector of police. “We love dancing and they play our sort of music. Better still it happens in the afternoon. We’re not too keen on going out in the evenings during the winter.”

The couple who have been married for 64 years, say the tea dance sessions give them a social outing, exercise and a chance to practice their dance floor moves.

They’re certainly not alone. The bi-monthly tea dances, which can accommodate up to 85 people, regularly sell out. The dancers are mainly in their 70s, 80s and even 90s. Couples, singles and groups of friends enjoy the music, the fun and of course the all important tea.

There are even a couple of bus loads of people from care homes and hospitals arriving excitedly with trained staff to look after them. At £5.50 for two hours of dancing and all the tea you can drink, this is a hot ticket.

Retired English teacher Jean Hutchison, 82, from Merley is a first-timer but very much likes what she sees. “I’ve already met all sorts of people,” she tells me. “I’ve just danced with a man who’s 92.”

Jean’s come with a friend, 80-year-old Jean Bell, who had a spare ticket. “It’s a great way to spend an afternoon. It keeps you fit and it keeps your mind active,” says Jean.

Before heading out on the dance floor again, Jean Hutchison reveals that she thinks she might have a genetic propensity for cutting a rug. “My mother and father met in a dancehall. The kind of music I really love is the Valetta and the Gay Gordon.”

Fortunately she’s more than happy with the music provided by the visiting band - the BSO Resonate Trio led by pianist Mike Hatchard who has worked with people like Matt Munro and Cleo Laine.

Leading a team that is part of the orchestra’s commitment to take music to the community, Mike knows his audience extremely well. Numbers like You Make Me Feel So Young, Moon River, Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off and Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree get the dance floor buzzing with activity. Then he turns the tempo up by, slipping in Leiber and Stoller’s Kansas City. One or two head for their cups of tea, but the floor is alive with seventy and eighty somethings jiving the afternoon away.

Later I talk to Mike whose website I’ve noticed includes Jimmy Page, Bob Dylan and The Temptations alongside Beethoven and Mozart as his main musical influences.

“I like to mix things up a bit,” he tells me. “I sometimes play in care homes and there’s a lingering belief that all they want to hear are things like Daisy, Daisy. Why would someone brought up in the 20s or 30s want to hear music that’s 120 years old?” It’s a good point. After all even Rolling Stones stalwarts Mick and Keith are in their seventies now and, had he lived, Elvis would be celebrating his 80th birthday next year.

Describing themselves as “young at heart” Maureen Chalker and her friend Colin Johnson have been regulars at the Poole tea dances for nearly four years.

“People feel comfortable coming here with a partner, a friend or on their own,” explains Colin. ‘We like it very much,” adds Maureen.

The tea dances attract people from a variety of backgrounds. One group are users of Dorset’s Memory Cafes, part of a nationwide initiative that aims to provide a meeting point and support for people suffering from dementia or other memory problems.

Beryl Banks-Cox, 83, has just taken a spin on the dance floor with her 79-year-old friend Joyce Gale and smiles happily, saying the music takes her back to the days when she ran a Church Youth Club. Memory Support practitioner Geraldine King looks on, saying: “Afternoons like this are all about bringing people somewhere that makes them feel good.”

Anna Schiels of Poole’s Arts Service says that helping those with memory problems is just one of the bonuses of the tea dance. “Music and dancing are both excellent therapy for people with dementia. You can really connect through music. It’s amazing how people, some with significant memory problems, can remember all the words to a song they haven’t heard since they were at school. It’s important to remember that the tea dance really is for everyone.”

Esme James from the BSO agrees: “We’ve even had inquiries from students interested in the resurgence of all things retro and vintage.”

Esme believes that the current popularity of programmes like Strictly Come Dancing have had an influence too, with several groups of people rehearsing particular routines before performing them at the tea dances.

“It’s absolutely ideal because they can come along here and request their chosen piece of music. It provides them with a safe environment in which to dance to the kind of tunes that are seldom performed live elsewhere.”

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Physiotherapist Susan Mulligan explains how dancing can be of benefit to older people

Dancing releases our ‘happy hormone’ endorphins, so as an activity it can support a fitness regime and alleviate depressive moods. For older people, it’s also a great way of keeping muscles strong to support bones and joints, helping to manage arthritic symptoms and preventing the development of conditions such as osteoporosis.

Just because people are older it doesn’t necessarily mean they are less active – everyone’s lifestyle is very individual. In the Bournemouth marathon last year there were people competing who belonged to the 100 marathon club and some of these were in their seventies!

However, it is true that as bodies get older they are more prone to wear and tear which can induce arthritic symptoms. This is where activities like attending a regular tea dance can be very helpful. A lot of physiotherapy is about working the muscles to make them stronger; be that in the hydrotherapy pool or gentle on land exercises. Stronger muscles will be far better at support ailing joints, but it’s all too easy for patients to get trapped in a vicious cycle of inactivity owing to pain.

For example, if a patient has pain in their knee, they may not want to put weight on it and that in turn will stop them moving about as much. As a result the muscles become weaker and won’t be able to support the joint as much and so on. Being active also helps prevent getting too overweight. Any extra weight will bear down on the joints, so keeping this in check really helps.

Dancing is also great for helping to prevent the development of Osteoporosis - the medical term for thinning of the bone. While Osteoporosis is very common in post-menopausal women, even if a young person is confined to their bed for over a few weeks, they will still be prone to it. This is because bones are not static –bones are made up of living tissue needing stimulation and exercise.

Exercise like dancing pulls on the bone and helps develop bone structure, so is great preventative, weight bearing exercise that will help to stimulate and strengthen the bones. In general dancing really is an excellent way to support an older lifestyle. It’s sociable, it’s good exercise - getting the cardiovascular rate up to keep fit and exercise the heart, which, after all, is a muscle, is always a good thing. If you are looking for something to keep you healthy, lift your mood and meet new people, attending a tea dance would tick all the right boxes.

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