Big Band Fun
By JeanMarie Van Din | Photos by Alexiz Gomez
Some retirees find themselves nodding off midday in a Lazy Boy recliner while trying to read the paper, watch three hours of YouTube or play on the internet to pass the time. Not me, or my mischievous 80 year-old mother. We look for adventure!
One day my mom and I were out enjoying a Pad Thai noodle lunch in Long Beach, and she said, “Heh, let’s go listen to the Big Band play!”
“Where on Earth are we going to find live music this time of day?” I inquired.
Smugly, she pointed her finger, “Keep driving until you reach the park.”
She directed me to the El Dorado Park Community Senior Center— recently renamed the Dr. Thomas Jay Clark Community Center. As I pulled into the parking lot, I could already hear the driving beat of the band. We entered the sunny enormous hall and marveled at the LIVE big band fully equipped with several vocalists, 20 musicians playing saxophones, trumpets, trombones, a piano, drums and more. We sat down while seniors, 50 and older (including numerous people in their nineties!) danced to Duke Ellington’s song:
Don’t mean a thing
If you ain’t got that swing
It don’t mean a thing
All you gotta do is swing
Makes no difference
If it’s sweet or hot
Just give that rhythm
Every little thing you got
The place was hopping: singles with newfound dance partners, couples in sync— all jiving to the sounds of the 1930s and 1940s, while some people came to merely listen; some brought walkers and wheelchairs.
Attire varied. A few dancers dressed up: the women in shiny gowns with sparkling rhinestone earrings; the men in dapper suits. But many wore jeans, cargo pants, tennis shoes. No matter what the apparel, all wore smiles and various shades of joy on their faces.
I turned to my mother and said, “ We’re coming back next week!”
I couldn’t resist this new playground, and I returned, in spite of having no ballroom dance lessons or skills. Because the music was so invigorating, I had to dive in.
After I started attending the dances, a lovely man and dance instructor named Manny asked me to dance. In the middle of the song, I swung my hand too far and ripped his glasses right off his face— where they landed clear across the room. Then I remember a tall blue-eyed man asked for my hand in dance. However, middance, he turned to me and stated, “You really need dance lessons.” He did not smile when he walked me back to my blue plastic chair. However, I kept coming back, determined to humiliate myself a little bit less each time.
Thereafter, I hired a teacher for a few private lessons, and this provided me with a few more skills; and it seemed to prevent additional injuries to my disgruntled partners. Before long, I learned a basic swing, cha-cha, fox trot, and I was able to relax a bit more; and enjoy getting to know my fellow dancers. I met Alyson, a dentist, and her husband, a pool designer, who dance on their lunch hour and then return to work.
Then I met John, a Salvadoran who dances with much gusto, who says, “I love dancing here; the band is so good, and I enjoy saying hello to everyone.”
Also, there is Vicky and Richard, a couple who drive all the way from Redondo Beach to dance at El Dorado Park every week. Vicky says, “There is nothing like this where we live, not even in LA. Live music is difficult to find, but it’s what really makes you want to move. Plus, we love the talented vocalists, Margo and Peggy.”
So, if you want to climb out of that comfortable chair, listen to uplifting music, learn a few new skills, and get a good workout, come to this convenient senior center located at 2800 Studebaker Road, Long Beach, on every Monday and Wednesday from 12 to 2 PM except holidays. There is free and ample parking, and there is no charge for admission. For more information, call 562-570-3227.