Sunday, May 3, 2009

Ladies dance for the fun of it

By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer

They slide, they step and they wiggle. They're the R.S.V.P. Rhythm Rockers.
'And dancing is what we're good at,' said director Kay Short of Temple.
Their faces are familiar all over town. They've performed at schools, nursing homes, Senior Day celebrations, parades and style shows.
Former State Rep. Diane White Delisi hosted the group twice at the Austin Rotunda, once in 1996 to introduce them to the state legislators. The occasion was to honor the Rockers for their win at that year's Texas State Senior Games. In the years they've competed, they've won two golds and two silvers.
'And we've been on TV,' Ms. Short said. 'That was sometime in the late 90s.'
They appeared as guest performers on TNN's 'Wildhorse Saloon Dance Show.'
'We got to travel to Nashville to do it,' Ms. Short said. 'And it was a hoot.'
They also were featured on KXAN's 'On the Porch with Jim Swift.'
It's been a fun ride for the Rhythm Rockers, and they're nowhere near done. They practice 1-2 p.m. every Monday and Wednesday at the Sammons Community Center. And they perform throughout the community five to six times a month, more in the busier seasons of summer and Christmas.
'Not bad for a bunch of women between the ages of 64 and 85,' Ms. Short said.
Bonnie Webb of Temple laughed.
'That's right,' Ms. Webb said. 'People are never sure what to expect when we take the stage, but once we do, they are amazed at how good we are. That amazed look they get on their faces is one of the things I like best about this.'
Not just anybody can dance with the Rhythm Rockers. They must be 55 or older and a member of R.S.V.P., the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Temple, an organization that promotes well-being and voluntarism among senior citizens.
'And it helps if you know a little bit of line dancing,' Ms. Short said.
She suggests taking lessons to learn the basics before joining R.S.V.P. The Sammons Community Center offers line dancing for beginners 5:30-6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays. The monthly cost is $29 per person. Call 298-5403 for details.
As R.S.V.P. affiliates, the Rhythm Rockers receive volunteer credit for their performances. In any given month, they produce a cumulative total of at least 500 volunteer hours.
And the Rockers' mission statement aligns with the R.S.V.P. vision.
'Our goal is to promote senior wellness,' Ms. Short said. 'We want to empty those rocking chairs, get people up and moving.'
Annie Graybill of Country Lane Seniors Community in Temple say residents enjoy it when the Rhythm Rockers come to perform.
'They came last week, and it has been nothing but questions of when they're going to come again,' Ms. Graybill said. 'It can be hard to get seniors to leave their apartments and attend events like those, but the reaction was great. Everyone was happy and having fun.'
Encouraging other seniors is not a responsibility the Rockers take lightly.
'We're just as old as they are,' Ms. Short said. 'We deal with the same kinds of struggles and illness as they do. We are seniors. We are great-grandmothers, so we know how it feels. So if we can encourage them to be active and involved by dancing and entertaining, then that's what we're going to do.'
There are, of course, other perks to being a Rhythm Rockers.
Sometimes they get to act.
To introduce a Rockers performance, Wanda Kasberg and Marlene Vanloh will often perform a skit called 'Homer and Haisel.' With Ms. Kasberg as Homer and Ms. Vanloh as Haisel, the skit is about an old married couple.
'And they're arguing all the time,' Ms. Vanloh said. 'The husband's pants are unzipped, and he hits on the other women. It's hilarious.'
Ms. Kasberg said her performance as the husband is sometimes so convincing that the hosts of the show will direct her to the men's restroom for costume changing.
Being a Rhythm Rocker also means you get plenty of exercise.
'It keeps you mentally and physically fit,' said Mildred Wade of Temple.
Ms. Short nodded.
'Line dances are pattern dances,' Ms. Short said. 'So to know the pattern, you've got to learn it. And when you're dancing, you're always remembering the next step, so it's great for your brain.'
And the Rockers are group full of friendship and fellowship.
'Being around here boosts your spirits,' Ms. Wade said. 'Everyone is so great and supportive.'
Ms. Webb, however, is not a Rhythm Rocker for the friendship or exercise.
'I do it because it's fun,' Ms. Webb said. 'When the music comes on, you can't help but dance exuberantly. And it's great fun.'
Most of the 25 Rhythm Rockers have known each other for a decade, so whenever a practice starts or they're preparing for a performance, there's always a lot of hugs and conversation.
'Sometimes it's hard to get everyone dancing,' Ms. Short said. 'We're all too busy visiting.'
'It's very alive,' agreed Peggy Schulze of Temple.
Annette Pace of Temple said she's grateful for the comradery she enjoys with her fellow dancers.
'They offered me a lot of support and solace after my home invasion,' Ms. Pace said. 'I think it saved my life, being a part of this group.'
Ms. Short thinks the same thing.
'There were so many bad days when my husband was dying,' Ms. Short said. 'But every time I walked in the door, my mood was lifted because of all the energy. It's a fantastic group of ladies to be around.'

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