Neither rain, nor sleet, nor knee replacement surgery will stop the Grandview Jolly Steppers.
The long-running Grandview Heights Parks and Recreation line dancing program is going strong after more than 30 years. So are the Jolly Steppers – a group consisting of some baby boomers, but more senior citizens – thanks to their commitment to the group, says Mary Ervin, who has taught them since 1981.
“Some danced before, but some never danced and always wanted to,” Ervin says. “It’s good for … mental sharpness – learning the steps – (and) it’s good physically.”
Line dancing provides the seniors with a host of health benefits, from mental acuity to muscle tone and balance.
“It’s good exercise,” says Thelma Sibio, a longtime group member in her 80s. “I come when I can, but I can’t dance like I used to.”
The routines Ervin teaches forces the seniors to work their minds as well as their bodies.
“They can’t just get out there and do them without thinking, and it keeps them motivated,” Ervin says.
In addition, the movement builds muscle and keeps bones strong. Regular physical exercise is frequently prescribed as a prevention and treatment for osteoporosis – one that Ervin says has proven effective for the Jolly Steppers
“Quite a few of them have fallen and they didn’t break anything,” she says. “I think it makes you agile, and when you fall, your muscles aren’t loose.”
The Jolly Steppers are extraordinarily dedicated to the group, which meets Mondays and Wednesdays from 1-2:30 p.m.
“No matter what, they’re out there dancing,” Ervin says.
Ervin also leads a Zumba class for seniors, and some of the Jolly Steppers attend that class as well.
“They come to all of that and they’re really energetic,” Ervin says. “You can see that dancing keeps them alive.”
Ervin describes Rosella Holly, a close friend who died from cancer in May 2012. Holly danced all through her chemotherapy treatments, Ervin says. The music and movement kept her vibrant during her illness.
At a recent Wednesday class, about 15 out of about 30 Jolly Steppers, dressed in black pants and shirts and sequined silver vests, showed off their moves to a variety of tunes, including a Jersey Boys medley and Michael Jackson’s Beat It.
Eiko Hans, who had a knee replacement five weeks prior, dances blithely through the steps with the help of a cane. Another member, Dick Entler, has a little more difficulty and relies on his cane more. He and a few other members take some breaks to rest while the others keep going with kicks, steps and turns.
“When they’re hurting, they hurt worse if they sit still, so they come no matter what,” Ervin says. “You feel better if you exercise.”
That fact has proven true for Ervin, too. She credits the Jolly Steppers with helping her carry on after her husband, Terry, died unexpectedly 12 years ago. They needed her, she says.
“They’re fun. I really love them. They keep me grounded.”
Wherever they go, the Jolly Steppers cause a stir with their lively performances. The group performs at a variety of events around central Ohio and has even taken its unique brand of dance to a much larger stage at the National Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C.
Of course, the Jolly Steppers’ demographics means that most of the members who participated in the parade back in 2002 are no longer with us, but the high turnover doesn’t detract from the group’s tight-knit family feel, says Mary Lou Wright, who joined the group when she retired in 1996.
“I like the friendship of all of them. It’s like family,” says Wright, who won’t reveal her age.
Wright had heard that there was a line dancing class at the Recreation Center; her lifelong love of dance drew her to check it out.
“I liked to dance; I always liked to dance,” says Wright, who leads the group when Ervin is unavailable.
The Jolly Steppers – fixtures at community events, including the Our Lady of Victory Festival, the St. Christopher Parish Festival, the Lazy Daze of Summer Festival and the Columbus Italian Festival – are regularly called upon to perform at nursing homes and in cancer wards.
“We really like to make people smile, and it just seems like we do when we go out there and dance,” Ervin says.
The group plans to perform demonstrations at several health fairs this year, but specific dates haven’t been set as of press time.
“They enjoy it. They look forward to it,” Wright says of the public’s reaction to Jolly Steppers performances. “They always do, even if we’re not always up to par.”
Lisa Aurand is editor of Tri-Village Magazine. Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.