- Associated Press - Sunday, February 12, 2017

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - “Ba ba bum. Ba ba bum. It’s alright to be a redneck.”

With the twang of country music’s Alan Jackson providing a lively two-stepping beat, the 14-member dance team scooted, stepped, kicked, turned and boogied across the hospital floor.

As Jackson sang about “driving around in a dirty old truck, catching a bunch of fish and shooting a bunch of duck,” the dancers, all 70 and older, shuffled - some more nimbly than others - through the memorized steps.

“My hearing is almost all gone, but I can still hear the music. As long as I can hear it, I’m going to keep dancing,” said Anna Franks with a shimmy of her shoulders. “My doctor told me to start dancing. He said it would be good for my heart. That was 20 years ago. I guess he was right. I’ll turn 82 this month. Without dancing I probably wouldn’t be here today.”

They call themselves the Bootscooters - a nod to the line dances they perform for elementary schools, nursing homes and retirement facilities.

“The line dancing class began as one of the hospital’s lifestyles programs to help seniors get moving. They started moving and never stopped,” said Kathy Goodwin, community relations and volunteer manager for Decatur Morgan Hospital.

What started as a six-week health class in 1996 turned into a 21-year community outreach and fitness program that received recognition as the Volunteer Center of Morgan County’s outstanding volunteer group of 2016 and as a 2001 honoree of Points of Light, a national volunteer campaign.

“It is good exercise. I get 3,000 steps in during a practice,” said Susan Chi, tapping the pedometer strapped to her wrist. “I do this for the exercise, because it is fun and because these people are like my family.”

For the retired teachers, scientists, veterans, widows and cancer survivors, the program offers more than exercise. It provides the members with social, mental and emotional support - key elements to living a long, healthy and happy life, said Sean Miller, creator of GOLocAL Initiative, a new grassroots movement focused on educating individuals about health.

“There are four pillars to the initiative: exercise, nutrition, stress management and social support. Those are based off of me doing research on centenarians, people who lived to be 100 and older, and why they lived so long,” said Miller, of Decatur. “Yes, exercise and eating healthy are important, but just as important is having a social network for support.”

The Bootscooters found that support in weekly practices and performances. Since the group formed, the members celebrated the marriages of children and the births of grandchildren and mourned the deaths of spouses and siblings.

“When you lose your partner, line dancing is something you can continue to do. You don’t need a partner,” Nadine Anthony said. “My husband and I started line dancing with the Bootscooters after we went to south Texas and saw people doing it. We thought what in the world are these people doing? We had a lot of fun dancing together. Now I dance by myself.”

According to the National Institute on Aging, exercise reduces stress and depression, boosts cognitive and memory skills, strengthens bones, improves moods and increases self-esteem. Dancing, specifically, helps with balance and flexibility and decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease, medical studies showed.

The National Institute on Aging recommends senior citizens participate in at least 150 minutes a week of moderate endurance activity, such as hiking, water aerobics and dancing.

“I’m an original member of the group,” Roy Chandler said. “I really enjoy dancing. It helps me physically, gets me out and keeps me active. It also reminds me of when I was a kid and we would go to my neighbor’s house and dance. That was back in the 1930s when everybody danced.”

Charles Chen, who joined the Bootscooters with his wife Betty after retiring 12 years ago, leads the group.

“I did not want to sit in front of the TV or the computer all day so we started line dancing. It is a very good activity. You dance by yourself, so you don’t have to worry about stepping on someone else,” Chen said. “My favorite part is dancing for people. They smile and that makes me smile. It makes my day being able to give back to the community.”

The Bootscooters practice every Tuesday from 3:30-4:30 p.m. at Decatur Morgan Hospital and perform once or twice a week at schools and nursing homes. The group also has performed at Relay for Life events and health fairs held by NARCOG and the Decatur Chamber of Commerce.

Anyone can join the group, no matter their physical ability, Chen said. Many of the Bootscooters battle mobility problems and hearing and vision loss, but they continue to dance.

“I dance because dancing makes me happy,” said Jane Rowe, a 15-year member.

Other members of the group are Annie Joe Key, Billy and Eloise Looney, Maedrue Driver and Lawrence and June Spurlin. For more information, call 256-973-2184.

Decatur Parks and Recreation also offers a free line dancing class on Tuesdays at noon and 6 p.m. and on Thursdays at noon at the Aquadome. A square dancing class takes place on Fridays at 7:30 p.m. at the Aquadome.

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Information from: The Decatur Daily, https://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml


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