“It’s a busy time of the year for us and as soon as we get back to Arizona of course we have to start preparing for the Senior Olympics”, so remarked Fran Dewar to me last November, as though this seemed to be a common place activity. Astounded I responded with an “I’ve never heard of the Senior Olympics, what does it involve, where is it held, who organizes it?” I had so many questions and you are now going to learn what I discovered.
It’s interesting how often individual or small group initiatives can lead to impressive activities that impact upon and involve many people. This was one such scheme. In 1985 a group of seven men and women got together in the United States to form what they called the National Seniors Olympics Organization (NSOO). A subsequent meeting was held gathering together organizers of seniors’ games in 33 States and that group planned the first Seniors’ Olympics in St. Louis with 2,500 competitors. The numbers have grown so much over the years that, according to the website, the summer games are now “one of the largest multi-sport events in the world”.
However, as its success grew the organization attracted the attention of the US Olympics Games Committee who weren’t too happy with its use of the term ‘Olympics’. A deal was reached and the States already using ‘Olympics’ could continue to do so whereas new States that joined used U.S. National Senior Sports Organization. Regardless of the name, it became obvious that seniors across the US were rising to the challenge of competition.
Let’s talk about this particular situation where Fran’s action led to a wonderful outcome for line dancers in Arizona. But let me tell you a little about Fran’s background. She has been teaching dance in Arizona for nearly 23 years and comes by her love of dancing naturally. Fran explained that “My mom was a swing dancer and used to compete with her brother. As a family on Friday and Saturday night we did, as the song says, ‘rolled back the rug and danced’.” Fran competed for many years in the UCWDC (United Country Western Dance Council) both in couples and Team dance. Her line dance team took a championship title in 1998 and the past two years she competed as a Solo Line Dancer and took 4th overall in January 2008. Fran told me that she started teaching a senior Ballroom class in Arizona in 1993 “then turned it into line dance because men were running short. So, we did dancing without partners aka Line dance. We had fun with it and found that it was quite a workout too”.
Listening to her students Fran discovered that many of them had a strong desire to compete. So she started checking around to find out what was needed to have dance accepted as a sport in the Seniors Olympics. Fran discovered that the Games incorporate almost everything you could think of … bocci ball, tennis, track & field, pool, bridge, shuffle board and so on. However, dance is relatively new and is not at the national level where it is seen as an exposition sport or demo. Regardless, it had been accepted by the Boards in Nevada, Florida and Colorado and thanks to Fran’s efforts it is now accepted by the Arizona Board. Fran is working alongside Scooter Lee to have ‘dance’ accepted as an event at the National level so that hopefully in the future dance will become a formal part of the Games.
This year the National Summer Olympics was held in Arizona from Feb 16-March 9 with the Arizona Dance Games taking place on March 8. The Games are run at full competition level with certain rules and regulations. To participate you have to be 50 year young and then the ages run in 5 year increments 50-54, 55-59, 60-64 and so on. This ensures that a 90 year will not compete against a 50 year old for example (although I must say many 90 year olds these days could hold their own against any age group!).
As well as line dancing, there is also tap and both forms of dance have sections for solo, couples, and specialty teams. The line dance solo competitors have to dance 3 dances that have been pre-selected. The teams dance two routines. The organizers select one piece of music to which the teams have to choreograph their own original routine. Then the Teams dance a routine to music of their own choosing. All the competitors are judged by certified judges either on the NDA (ball room) or UCWDC (country) and these judges hold titles themselves and are dance professionals. The current year’s dances are chosen by last year’s competitors and the Sports Commissioners. In Arizona, Fran is the Sports Commissioner and Cindy Jones, her Dance Studio Partner, is the Vice Commissioner. I checked out the competition rules and found them straight forward, easy to follow and fair. With regard to costume rules (which I know have caused much upset at many competition events), here the only rules are that no advertising is allowed, that the costumes must be family appropriate and fit the style of dance. These rules make a lot of sense to me.
Fran told me about an 80 year old dancer who had always wanted to dance on a team. Fran suggested that the dancer start a team and now there are a number of teams with 80 year olds who participated this year. As Fran said to me “We believe that age is not a factor, just a number and the same goes for disability … if a dancer has had a back fused and is doing a samba, that is impressive and the judges will judge accordingly”. Fran asserted that the senior dancers “understand that their bodies may not move like they did 20, 30, 40 years ago but why should that stop them”.
The Dance Games will be an annual event so dancers will have a year to train. They are informed well ahead of time as to which dances are to be used in the competition and Fran and Cindy teach the dances all year in classes held throughout the Phoenix valley. They also offer private classes and special workshops on technique and styling. The work they put into the Games is strictly voluntary.
What an amazing affirmation of what seniors can achieve and also a wonderful example of the commitment and dedication to line dancing that we encounter all the time in our community. I know there are many instructors who feel the same way as Fran so movingly expressed “I find teaching seniors one of life's greatest honors. I learn so much from them. I love what I do and the people I get to meet. My job is to keep them moving and help them with their fitness and social skills. I find each day to be rewarding and hope I can continue to do this for my job for a long while.”
Seniors Olympics website www.seniorolympics.org
Fran and Cindy’s website where you can find out about the Arizona Dance Games as well as their classes and events: www.azbodydance.com