The other day we did something we enjoy doing – danced at the Ormond Beach Senior Center. The ballroom dance is every Wednesday afternoon from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm. It is all very, very structured. You arrive, pay $5, and find seats along the side of the dance floor. The live band, The Blue Notes, plays the same songs (as far as we can tell) every week. They play the classics –“Stardust”, “Fly Me to the Moon”, and for the ever present “line dance” they play “New York, New York” (which, in case you have never line danced (i.e. – done the Electric Slide to it) goes on for an infernally long time. After each dance you clap a bit and then dutifully return to your seat. The band starts the next song, and you go back out and fox trot or waltz or what have you.
|Cutting a rug at a dance in 2011|
Then, exactly halfway through the afternoon, THERE ARE SNACKS. You line up as if you were in elementary school again and fill your little paper plate with store made cakes or odd pimento cheese sandwich quarters, then sit in your seat and rest while the hostess calls out the lucky winners of the half and half raffle in her sweet Irish accent. Never, ever are you allowed a snack or a small cup of iced tea before the break. Why, that just is not polite (I learned that the hard way one time). The break is also the time they call out BIRTHDAYS of the month, bring the celebrants up front, and sing to them. It is lovely.
|Taking a spin on the dance floor - December 2014|
This week was a bit different because it is so close to Christmas – the Blue Notes played HOLIDAY SONGS. It was terrific! The band likes to do fun costume changes, so this week it was Santa hats and reindeer antler headbands for some numbers.
|The Blue Notes|
Anyway, we are always the “youngest” people there (and we are members of AARP, mind you!). We love to dance but only get to do it at wedding receptions every 5 years or so, so when we are in Ormond Beach on a Wednesday and not working we try to go to the Senior Center to cut a rug. We even have specially purchased “dance clothes” in the closet here just for Wednesdays (and I have dance shoes, though this week I wore flats). We just get out there on that dance floor and make stuff up, laughing and laughing. We may not be the BEST dancers, but we sure have fun. We try and mimic some Dancing with the Stars moves, which somehow do not look as slick on us as they do on the B list “stars” on the show.
|The very, verrrrry long line dance they do every single week to "New York, New York" (it's the Electric Slide)|
But as nice and fun as the dance is, it is also really makes me think. There is one woman who used to LOVE to see us come in, would come over and talk and talk to us. I still smile and wave at her when we enter, but she seems to have dementia and has no idea who we are now. There are people so stooped over they only see their FEET, and yet they DANCE. One time a van load of seniors came from a facility and one of them sat on the sidelines and drummed and drummed (on a chair) the entire time, as if he was part of the band. There are many people there alone because they are widowed. Women sometimes dance with women – simply because there are more women to go around J.
And there is HILTON. Each time we go, I hold my breath when we enter and I scan the room to see if Hilton is there. We were there the time they celebrated his 99th birthday. And now he is 101. He seems to come to the dance every week. He sometimes dances (which at this point means swaying a bit), but more often plays his tambourine or, better still, his LIGHT UP maracas in front of the stage. For one song this week he stared at the band very reverently and moved his arms as if to conduct them. It was beautiful.
|Hilton with his tambourine - December 2014|
Hilton was a famous musician. We have talked to him a few times and he is quite the character. He used to play saxophone with Xavier Cougat, Tito Puente, and other famous bands. This week he told me where he got his shirt – it was from DON HO, who gave the whole band shirts and matching jackets (it was too hot to wear the jacket this week, rats). (He told us a bit secretly that Don Ho did a lot of drugs but was a nice man.) He had a fancy walker this week and told us of a recent mini stroke. He regaled David with stories of his 3 wives (the first served him coffee in a glass…). He told of parties with Desi Arnez (Hilton danced with the movie star Rita Hayworth, but said that Lucille Ball was also a great dancer!). He is from Puerto Rico, and I mentioned that we love eating MOFONGO (a popular local dish) when we go there. That made him light up – mofongo is one of his favorites! He told us of his son dying recently (at “only” age 68) because he didn’t take good care of himself and smoke and drank. He told of dinner parties with Marilyn, as in MARILYN MONROE, who he reported was quiet and very, very beautiful.
|Hilton with his light up maracas, December 2011|
I guess what I think is, you see Hilton on the street or in a store somewhere, you think he is a hunched over old man. But if you pause and TALK to Hilton, to really listen to him above the non-stop ballroom music in the background, and you are reminded that we all have a story. We all have things to share. And we just want people to listen.
When I am old (and I doubt I ever make it to 101) I hope that people will listen. I hope that I can still “shake my maracas” and laugh. I hope that I can remember my stories and find people to share them with.
And I know that one Wednesday we will arrive at the dance and Hilton won’t be there. It will be sad. But I am glad we got to meet him, listen to him, and smile at his tambourine and maracas. Thanks Hilton.
|Hilton, age 101, wearing a shirt given to him by Don Ho, December 2014|