Sunday Seniors: Hanover line dancing class offers a challenge to get in the groove

  • Liz Sauchelli. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jamie Orr, left, of Enfield, leads a line dance class last Tuesday (Dec. 3) at the R.W. Black Community Center in Hanover. To his right is Thelma Fontaine, of Lebanon, who has been taking line dance classes with Orr for more than a decade. (Valley News — Liz Sauchelli)

  • Jamie Orr, center, of Enfield, N.H., teaches line dancing at Damon Hall on Monday, November 30, 2015. The class meets every Monday from 1-3p.m. (Valley News - Kristen Zeis)

    Copyright � Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hylene DeVoyd of Hartland picks up the steps taught by Jamie Orr, of Enfield, left, during a weekly line dancing group at Damon Hall in Hartland, Vt. Monday, November 24, 2014. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

  • Hylene DeVoyd, of Hartland, dances with the line dancing class led by Jamie Orr at Damon Hall in Hartland, Vt., on Monday, April 1, 2019. DeVoyd has been attending the weekly group organized by Aging in Hartland since 2011. "You don't have to have a partner," she said of why she enjoys it. "It's a social time." (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Calendar Editor
Published: 12/7/2019 10:08:26 PM

I thought a line dancing class with a group of (mostly) seniors in Hanover would be a pleasant way to relieve stress and get an easygoing workout.

Halfway through, I was off to the side watching in amazement while the grown-ups did the dancing.

The class, held last week at the Richard W. Black Community Center, was led by Jamie Orr, a thoughtful and — as I learned — understanding instructor who’s been teaching line dancing in the Upper Valley for 13 years.

The class — which runs from 10:15-11:45 a.m. each Tuesday — started with a warmup, where I encountered jazz squares for the first time, and it is an introduction I will not forget. The four-step move involves crossing one foot over the other while walking in a square and, admittedly, it tripped me up. Orr was kind enough to pause the warmup to offer extra help.

Footwork forms the basis for line dancing, and moves like grapevines (crossing one foot in front of the other as a way to move from side to side) make up the fundamentals. While Orr’s line dance classes are open to adults of all ages, the majority of participants are seniors.

The class gets progressively harder, with each dance a little more challenging than the last. While line dancing is closely associated with country music, it has expanded beyond that. Pop tunes, waltzes and “oldies” are common in Orr’s line dance classes. Dancers stand in two lines with ample space between each dancer. Orr travels around the room, always standing where people can see him.

During the first line dance, I had been able to catch on after the fourth repetition of the steps that Orr called out. The next dance, performed to the Frank Sinatra classic Fly Me to the Moon, threw me for a loop, and Orr asked Sharon Boffey, of Lebanon, to stand next to me to help guide me.

“That was a lot more complicated,” Boffey, who has been line dancing for a couple years, assured me as I fumbled my way through steps that she executed with ease and grace.

But it was obvious I was not catching on, and Orr moved me to the front next to him so I could better observe his footwork.

His patience is built on years of practice. Orr got his start teaching line dancing in 2006 at the Bugbee Senior Center in White River Junction.

“I had been teaching ballroom and swing and Latin dancing for years, but I hadn’t been teaching line dancing until then,” he told me during an interview last month. “They handed me a stack of VHS videos and said, ‘Can you teach us these?’ ”

At first, Orr, an Enfield resident, was a bit skeptical.

“To be honest, I was a little biased against it,” he said. “The reason was I just felt that partner dancing was a higher form of dancing and (I) just didn’t have much respect for it.”

But he began to change his tune after he saw the impact on people in his class at Bugbee.

“What really changed in my mind was the obvious joy that people were expressing to me,” Orr said. “In all the years of teaching before that, nobody had ever come up to me and said, ‘Dancing saved my life,’ but I hear that comment from time to time now.”

He now teaches 11 line dance classes per week throughout the Upper Valley, and his dancers range in age from 40-95.

The tone of Orr’s Tuesday class is that of pure enjoyment. People try their best and modify the moves if they can’t do them. They encourage one another.

“It’s physical exercise as well as mental exercise,” Laurie Wadsworth, of Lyme, told me during a class break. “You have to be thinking the whole time.”

Wadsworth took up line dancing after retiring as an elementary school teacher. She had tried different exercise classes, but they didn’t stick. Then she attended one of Orr’s classes.

“Everyone is very supportive — everyone,” said Wadsworth, who said her age was “older than 65.” “It’s not competitive. Everyone helps everyone.”

I found that to be the case.

Marie Esselborn has been with Orr since the beginning and takes three classes every week.

“At one point I was doing five, but it got (to be) too much, the travel,” the 85-year-old Hanover resident said.

Thelma Fontaine, of Lebanon, has also been taking classes with Orr since he started teaching line dancing. She currently attends two classes a week.

“Every dance is a good dance,” said Fontaine, 82. “We have fun too. It’s nice to be out and about.”

About halfway through the class, I couldn’t keep up and decided to sit down to watch, paying close attention to the way people were moving their feet.

After the class, I reconnected with Esselborn, who told me that she had never danced prior to taking line dance classes. She calls them “mindfulness on steroids” because they are relaxing while at the same time mentally challenging.

“What Jamie can do is accommodate all levels and keep everyone happy,” she said. “It’s good for an aging brain.”

And for this younger brain as well.

Editor’s note: Orr’s line dancing class at the community center costs $9 for drop-ins, or $28 for a package of four classes.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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