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KICKING UP HER HEELS IS A 'SALVATION' 92-year-old woman dances doldrums away

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Nora Miller likes to say she danced with Bob Hope years ago. "He was on television, and I was in my living room, and I just couldn't sit still," she said.

Mrs. Miller is still dancing at 92, and is easily the oldest line dancer in the Baltimore County senior center system, where line dancing is all the rage.

"It's been my salvation," Mrs. Miller said as she sipped a glass of water after a rigorous turn at "Old Time Rock and Roll."

She has been in two of the four weekly line dancing classes at Seven Oaks Senior Center on Seven Courts Drive in Perry Hall for three years. "I was in the doldrums, and didn't have much to look forward to," she said. "It's brought back my second childhood."

She also has danced her ills away.

"I had arthritis all over my body, but now I hardly feel a twinge," she said. "I used to go for treatment of a back problem three times a week, but I don't go anymore. My ankle hurt for years, but that pain's gone too. My only problem now is I get a little dizzy if there's too much twisting."

Last week she was in the line with 15 other dancers -- total age 1,110 years -- doing a perfect heel-and-toe to "Stray Cat Strut," with an extra strut or two thrown in; waving her arms to the rhythms of "Hallelujah," and turning it up a notch for the swinging "Little Black Book."

She glanced around only occasionally to make sure she was going in the right direction.

"Line dancing is perfect for Nora and the other dancers. It's good exercise, a lot of fun, and it creates a great social atmosphere," said Marla Lewis, director of the 1,000-member Seven Oaks center. "Also, there aren't nearly enough men to go around, and this is something they can do without a partner. Almost all the zTC senior centers have classes in it."

Evelyn Miller is Mrs. Miller's daughter-in-law, and co-instructor of the class with Dick Knauer. "Not only does Nora do it, but she does it well," Evelyn Miller said.

Mrs. Miller was born in Portsmouth, England, in 1903, and spent her first six years in Scotland. She still speaks with a soft, lilting Scottish accent.

"My father was in the Coast Guard and stationed in Scotland, and he loved to dance," she said. "I was born with a club foot, which was corrected, but I didn't walk until I was 3 years old. He thought dancing would do wonders for me."

Mrs. Miller came to America in 1925 and settled in Perry Hall with her husband, George, a ship's carpenter and later a Perry Hall farmer. He died in 1962.

"I met him in a chocolate shop in England, and we had two sons and a very happy marriage," she said. She also has eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

During World War II, Mrs. Miller worked for what was then the Glenn L. Martin Co. "I was Rosie the Riveter, and could catch those things in the bucket as good as the rest of them," she said.

She later worked for 18 years at Bendix Corp. in Towson, wiring and soldering equipment.

"I started dancing just for the exercise, but now there is no place I'd rather come than here," she said.

Mrs. Miller and the other dancers take their act to nursing homes every couple of months, and there is a picture on a Seven Oaks wall of her in a red costume dancing to "New York, New York" with the others.

"I didn't want to tell them my age when I joined the group. I was afraid they would chuck me out for being too old," she said, laughing.

Mrs. Miller got up for the last dance of the hourlong session and stepped smoothly through the intricate left-right-back-turn movements required for "In the Arms of Love."

"They might be out of 'puff,' " she said, nodding toward the other dancers as she sat down, "but I'm not."

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