When his wife died in 1995, Dexter McPherson wanted to socialize more. On Sunday, the 92-year-old danced with several other seniors, embracing a life in which he lives alone but is far from lonely.
“I try to dance with every single lady I can at least once,” McPherson said.
Dozens of seniors danced in pairs Sunday at the Luepke Senior Center in Vancouver, a weekly event. The Kansas City Rhythm Kings — a local band that plays several genres such as jazz, rock and blues — provided live music. Dancers wearing suits and dresses glided on a dance floor between the band stage and round tables with seats, creating an atmosphere similar to that of a wedding reception.
Most of the dancers attend regularly, though new faces are also common. Many also attend other weekly dances in Vancouver and around Portland.
“The people here are, kind of, like a club,” said Mary Pattee, 79, of Oregon City, Ore. “This is a good way to get out of the house and socialize. I put a lot of miles on my car.”
McPherson lives in a studio apartment a few blocks away from the senior center. He dances there twice a week, eats meals four times per week and plays cribbage.
“It’s my second home,” McPherson said. “There are a lot of seniors here that are old and lonely. If I didn’t have this place, I wouldn’t want to live.”
For the regulars, the senior center is a family, McPherson said. Some will even visit each other if and when they are in the hospital.
“We’re all a family here,” McPherson said. “We really take care of each other.”
Ray Puckett, 95, of Tigard, Ore., attends several dances each week with his friend Donna Kloster, 86.
“We go together like ham and eggs,” Puckett said.
Puckett said he might be the most senior person at the weekly dance.
“The music’s good here. A lot of nice people,” Puckett said. “After a period of time, you get to know people.”
Meeting people was important to Peri Anne Moisant, whose husband Robert Moisant Jr. died seven years ago after 43 years of marriage. Moisant volunteered at the senior center for roughly 1 1/2 years after his death before realizing that, despite a love for dance in high school, she had few opportunities to partake since then.
On Sunday, Moisant, 80, of Vancouver was busy talking and dancing — either on the dance floor or while resting (at least attempting to) near her table.
“I needed to do something,” Moisant said. “I thought I needed to be out here with these people. I’m a widow, and I’m in a place where I can have fun.”
While socializing is a major draw for the seniors, it’s not the only one. Studies have shown that dance offers seniors physical benefits, such as balance, and cognitive ones, like mental sharpness.
Mike Matern, 81, of Vancouver has danced since he was in high school.
He pointed to an app on his phone that tracks his daily step count. On Saturday, when he went to a dance, Matern logged 5,805 steps. On Dec. 30, a non-dancing day, he accumulated 1,918 steps.
“I tell my wife, ‘This is my gym,'” Matern said.
A few moments later, a fellow dancer approached Matern to inform him that he needed to return to his workout.
“Mike, you’ve talked enough,” Pattee said as she grabbed his arm and led him to the dance floor.