Jackie Bong Wright

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Spotlight on Seniors in FFC

By Jackie Bong-Wright

Line-Dance Performance

A row of Asian seniors, 55 and better, came out on stage wearing black pants and white caps with bills slanted to the left. They wore white T-Shirts, each with a separate letter on the chest. These read: W. R. P.H. FRESHMEN ( We are Pimmit Hills Freshmen). The W on the teacher’s T-shirt was made to look like a smiling face. The dancers were students of the graceful line-dance instructor Tai Ja Ra, called T.J., a Korean-born immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1999.

T.J. chose an exciting five-minute piece of music, “That’s what I like,” by Jive Bunny and the Mastermix to showcase her students. Twice a week, at the Pimmit Hills Senior Center, she had taught her ageing students the Irish Cha Cha, Tennessee Twist, and Foxtrot. After weeks of leg- and arm-twisting exercises, these 15 Asian seniors were practically in the same league with Elvis Presley, swirling in high-speed steps, and doing about-faces of 360 degrees.

Whistles, shouts, and long clapping from the 200 spectators welcomed the dancers and thanked them for an exhilarating line-dance performance. The Asian seniors seemed more stimulated than exhausted, even with sweat running down their foreheads on an unusual 55-degree cold April day. One of the seniors at Pimmit Hills, Janet Tsou recalled that eleven years ago she and Jo-Ann Lau volunteered to pick up a few lonely, home-bound Chinese seniors in the Tyson Corners area and take them to meet friends at the senior center. There, they played mahjong, did stretching exercises, and learned Taichi. That Chinese group has now swelled to 400 seniors who also learn English, go on field trips, and vote in elections.

“It was good physical and mental therapy for me and for them,” T.J. exclaimed. “I learned line-dancing a year-and-a-half ago after a car accident that hurt my back. Dancing helped relieve my pain and correct my posture. I love that type of healthy exercise and the romantic western music. So I wanted to share with these seniors the joy of dancing combined with exercising.”

Line dance is a mixture of national dance traditions from our early settlers. It borrows from the waltz, minuet, polka and schottische. Later, from the 1900s through the 1950s, the Foxtrot, Cowboy Charleston, rumba, samba, tango, mambo walk, swing, cha cha, and Bossa Nova made their own contributions. The “fad” dances — the Jerk and the Madison in the 1960s, then the hustle, two-step, and country waltz of the 1970s and break dancing and the Tush Push of the 1980s — added to the fun.

Showcase of Cultural Activities and Social Programs

The Senior Showcase, sponsored by Fairfax County Community and Recreation Services, has been an annual event since 2001. “It is designed to showcase senior performing groups, classes, and other light-hearted leisure enrichment endeavors that have formed at the Fairfax County senior centers,” said Dorothy Keenan, supervisor of these 12 senior centers.

“This showcase is presented by seniors for seniors to inspire activity and creativity, and to shine our spotlight on the ever-so-young at heart,” exclaimed Cheryl Laferty, branch manager of Senior Services.

This year, 5 senior centers were selected to perform. Renata Lynch, an animated Mistress of Ceremonies, introduced the tap dance group, Snappy Tappers, and the T’ai Chi group at Lincolnia Senior Center. Little River Glen Players and their Toe-the-Line dancers, the Freshman Class Line Dancers at Pimmit Hills, the Kazoo Kwoir at Sully, and the Drama Club of Hollin Hall with their Sassy Red Hatters added to the awe-inspiring show in the auditorium of the Falls Church High School.

The Senior Services arranged their program requirements under 9 headings – fitness, health and wellness, community integration and volunteerism, socialization, leisure education, life skills, inter-generational activities, charter trips, and trips of necessity.

First of all, volley ball, tap dance, Tai Chi, rhythm exercise, ballroom dance, chair jazzercise, flex-n-stretch, square dance, chair exercise, relaxation, yoga, line dance, walking, kick boxing, water aerobics, weight training and basic workout are activities that promote physical fitness.

Other activities, such as nutritional visits, vision screening, dental care information, blood pressure screening, eye glass service, weight management, diabetes program, tried to promote physical, emotional, and social well-being, and educate participants in developing health-conscious behavior strategies.

The monthly Advisory Council meetings, committee assignments, reading program with local day care centers, monthly social events, volunteer day, speakers, mentoring, new buddy and recreation programs, holiday luncheons, spring cleaning days, community service projects are meant to promote community service, involvement and empowerment.

To encourage participation, inter-action study groups, crossword puzzle groups, drama clubs, pot luck, bingo, group games, sing-a-longs, senior proms, garden clubs, card games, tea parties, happy hour, book clubs, international dinners, men’s groups and holiday parties were organized.

Bridge lessons, sewing classes, quilting clubs, cake and candy classes, current event discussion groups, foreign language classes, knitting clubs, cooking classes, wood carving, painting and drawing classes, computer classes, indoor gardening groups, email and internet classes, poetry writing classes, chorus, genealogy clubs, craft classes, jewelry making, sign language classes, photo club, literature discussions, pet clubs, skit writing, military history club are among the classes help educate and provide skill building and creative growth.

To enhance independent functioning, financial education, anti-scam programs, fire safety, reverse mortgages, medicare issues, CPR, home safety, legal assistance, tax assistance, travel tips for seniors, estate planning, AAA services, first aid, mature driving classes, crime prevention, housing opportunities, English-as-a- Second language.

Picnics, field trips, mentoring, movie days, wall murals, cultural exchanges, writing life stories, reading, scrapbook are programs shared by seniors with teens, elementary and pre-school age groups and charter trips to performances, museums, theatres, places of interest and parks including luncheons, and trips within 15-mile radius of the senior center to grocery stores, as well as hair care salons, pharmacy, shopping malls, clothing stores are necessity trips to life-sustaining needs for socialization.

Besides the multiple services mentioned above, Fairfax County provides free of charge brochures, videos, speakers, meeting space, transportation, Golden Gazette newspapers and also offers county grants to non-profit organizations willing to service adult seniors.