Taking intergenerational steps


Margaret Faya surveyed the dance floor crowded with people of all ages doing the cha-cha, the hokey-pokey and generally having a great time.

At 86, she says she can't dance because of arthritis and osteoporosis. But that didn't stop her from joining the merriment as the Goldenaires blasted big-band tunes at the Bain Center.

"I can shake up top," she said, lifting her arms in the air and moving her upper body to the music. "I think this is wonderful."

About 100 senior citizens and 60 or so students from local high schools turned an ordinary Wednesday afternoon into a celebration, as they danced, talked and ate during the annual Senior Prom.

"The old people know how to dance better than us," said Kirsten Chicca, 16, who was taking a break from the dance floor and sitting with Layla Feicipour, also 16.

"We're going to dance again, I'm sure," Feicipour said.

Both are juniors at River Hill High School and participate in the county's Allied Health Program at the Applications and Research Laboratory next to the Board of Education on Route 108. Students in the program are interested in health-related careers.

"We started it because a lot of our kids going into health care really don't get much experience with older people," said Sharon Templeton, wearing a sequined sweater and taking a breather after dancing for the better part of an hour.

She is one of three Allied Health teachers at ARL, all of whom were at the dance. "If they can have fun in a setting like this, then they can be more comfortable in a clinical setting," Templeton said.

The dance, loosely themed as a Valentine celebration, is one of many intergenerational activities organized by the school system and the senior center. Once a month, about 30 seniors visit the ARL for lunch and an activity such as flower-arranging or cookie baking, said Templeton. But the annual dance is the biggest and most fun of these events.

"You get to meet new people, get to meet the seniors," said Safiya Blair, a senior at Long Reach, who is in the Allied Health Program. She will major in nursing at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in the fall and maybe specialize in pediatrics, she said.

The Goldenaires, a brass band of senior citizens who rehearse and play regularly at the Bain Center, kept the dance floor hopping, as both young and old boogied the afternoon away. Templeton taught her students a few basic moves before the dance so they could at least do a "very basic" fox trot, cha-cha and swing, she said.

Judi Bard, program specialist for the Howard County Office on Aging, said the dance has been held annually for the past five years. There is no charge to attend, and there is plenty of food. "We really want to keep events like this free," she said.

Dorothy Boisen, 83, who lives in Laurel, said she gave Bard the idea when she moved to the area from Massachusetts five years ago. There was a similar program there, and she liked it so much she wanted to see it in Maryland, she said.

"It's very rewarding. The kids are great," she said.

Senior citizens from around the county attended. Included was representation from Longwood and a contingent, including Faya, from the Red Hat Society, a group of women over the age of 50 who wear red hats and purple clothes as a reminder to enjoy life and be silly. The local Red Hat group is called the Columbia Cupcakes.

Evelyn Lifschitz, 83, who lives in Columbia, was colorfully dressed in a red hat and red enamel earrings and necklace. She said she planned to return to the dance floor soon.

"I always love to dance," she said.

Daniel Donovan, a volunteer at the Bain Center, who described himself as "over 60," said the event was excellent. "It's good to see all these people dancing, and the old folks dancing with the young folks," he said.

At one point, some of the students got hold of the microphone and led the floor in a laughing, energetic rendition of the hokey-pokey. Kristen Joyce, a Long Reach senior who helped lead the dance, said it was only fair.

"We teach them our dances, and they teach us theirs," she said.

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