A team of line dancers executed a precise “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” as “We Are Family,” the disco-era Sister Sledge anthem of solidarity, blasted from the loudspeakers in the conference room of the Surry Senior Center on Monday morning. The song choice, though unexpected, expresses perfectly the underlying theme of the weekly gatherings.
“We call everybody here our family,” said Carolyn Martin, who said she and her husband have no other family here.
Jackie Urschel, who spends part of the year in Mount Airy and the other part in Florida, says the class members are so welcoming when she comes here every summer. “It makes me feel very welcome when they’re so happy to see me every year. And last summer when I had to leave early to deal with the hurricane, they were really supportive.
“My house survived,” she said. “My yard did not.”
Other members of the class, which meets on Monday mornings at 11:15 a.m. at the L.H. Jones Resource Center and is free to anyone older than 50, echo Martin and Urschel’s sentiments.
Tracie Artim has been teaching the class since 2010 or 2011 when some students asked her to teach a line dancing class after their morning yoga class. Over the years, line dancing has attracted its own following.
“I took ballet and tap as a little kid,” said Artim, “and got into line dancing in about 2000.”
She started out teaching at Surry Arts Council, but gets summers off from those classes.
“I play a lot of really good upbeat music, and we do a lot of the dances over and over. They know all these dances,” she said, indicating the class members, ”so they’re able to do it without me when they go out to dance.”
Artim said she injects a new dance into the mix about once a month or every six weeks. “I do a lot of the choreography for these classes myself.”
She said that during the school year, when she’s teaching five classes a week, it’s not unusual to see some of the same faces in all of those classes. “So we do different dances in all of them to keep it interesting. I want them to have a good experience.”
“There are benefits to frequent dancing,” she said. “It’s a good cardiovascular workout. At first, line dancing is like learning a foreign language. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. But if you keep coming, it starts to make sense. And you build your endurance up.”
She also cites a New England Journal of Medicine study that says, among seniors, dancing is the only exercise that lowers the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Her husband Michael Artim, who attends the class and assists his wife with logistics and equipment, has done some research on the subject and has concluded,”Your blood is rushing while you’re using your brain.” Artim says that dancing creates new neural pathways and helps with neuro-plasticity. “I don’t mind dying,” he said,” but I want to have my mind when I go.”
“A lot of students have chemo fog that has impaired their ability to remember things,” said Tracie Artim. “Some students have cancer.” When they start treatments, she encourages them to tell their oncologist that dancing is part of their therapy. “It lowers stress and helps with depression and anxiety. It’s an hour in a day when you can’t think about what’s bothering you.”
Emily Martin did just that. “I started six years ago,” said Martin. “I didn’t line dance at all. I didn’t even know what a grapevine was. (A grapevine is a lateral move where the dancer steps one foot behind the other to move sideways and is a component of many of Artim’s dances.) After I started, I had cancer, and dancing helped me. It helped a lot. I don’t think I even missed a lot of classes. My doctor said to go on. Sometimes, I had to sit a little bit.” Martin reiterated that you can’t worry while you’re dancing and trying to remember steps.
Artim injects some contra line dancing as part of each lesson. Contra line dancing, she explains, is done facing and interacting with a partner.
“A lot of the students are widows, and have no human contact,” said Artim. During the contra portion of the lessons, the students clap hands and dosey doe with each other and move in patterns that put them in contact with a partner and one or two other dancers.
“I gotta dance,” said Carolyn Graham. “We all like to dance. Most of us go to the amphitheater,” she said, referring to Surry Arts Council’s summer music series at Blackmon Amphitheater.
Graham’s husband does not come with her to line dancing class. She pulls a face when asked if he does. But she brightens up, and says, “I got him into shagging. That took a while.”
After the class is over, Graham is happy that she has walked 1.1 miles, according the the heart app on her iPhone. “I can get in three miles on a good night at the amphitheater,” she adds.
Tracie Artim checks her FitBit and says she has burned 437 calories.
Cinni Cobbler, who claims, at 81, to be the oldest person present, said at the end of the class, “I also do yoga and tai chi. And I bought a new ukulele.” That class is Wednesday.
Someone jokes as Cobbler is leaving that if the CD player ever malfunctions, she can play for the class.
“People think exercise is expensive and time-consuming,” said Artim. “It doesn’t have to be. This is free, and it’s fun. Even if you’re homebound, when you are watching television, stand up during the commercials and do some bicep pumps and heel touches. (She demonstrates the move.) When you watch an hour show, that’s 15 or 20 minutes of exercise. A two-hour movie would be 40 minutes.”
Surry Senior Center’s Mount Airy location is at the L. H. Jones Family Resource Center, 215 Jones School Road. A number of free dance classes are offered, as well as yoga and tai chi. For more information, call Jane Surratt, Surry Senior Center manager, at 336-415-4225.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.