Dance had been a much-loved hobby for 57-year-old Susan Avery since she was in her teens. So, when she saw an ad for tryouts for the Brooklyn Cyclone’s minor league baseball team cheer squad and dance team, she thought, Why not?
“Dozens of hopefuls showed up — all 18 to 22 years old. It was a bit intimidating,” Susan admits to Woman’s World. “But I made the team! I couldn’t believe it. It was really a thrill!”
Susan worked hard to learn the routines and put her heart into every performance. So, she was shocked when some mean-spirited people began ridiculing her on social media. You’re too old to be dancing in public! critics wrote.
“I was mortified, but I didn’t want to hide,” Susan shares. So despite the criticism she persevered and performed with the Brooklyn Cyclones for two full seasons.
Susan’s daughter, Natalie, now 28, inspired by her mom’s ability to rise above the nay-sayers challenged her one day at dinner: “Mom, why don’t you start your own dance team for older people?”
Hmm, interesting idea, Susan thought, and feeling inspired, she did just that.
Combining passion and pep
Susan, who’d had a career in journalism and is now a high school teacher, decided to embrace her age and find others who shared her belief that “old” isn’t a bad word. She placed ads calling for people to audition for a new senior dance team.
And in 2019, after accepting most dancers who auditioned, the Pacemakers Dance Team, based in greater New York City, was born.
Members, which include a few males, are all at least 60, and some are as old as their mid-80s. They come from all walks of life. But the approximately 40 Pacemakers are all longtime dancers — most hobbyists and some retired professionals.
Age is just a number in a senior dance team
Dancers are bold and proud about their ages — the backs of their shirts even boast their birth years. They all also have playful nicknames: Susan is “Chief Heart Murmur.”
Every Saturday for three hours, the Pacemakers hold challenging but laughter-filled rehearsals, and they do about two performances a month at sporting events, along with community festivals, parades, conferences and more. In a full circle moment, one of their first performances was at a Brooklyn Cyclone’s game. The Pacemakers got a standing ovation, and now they perform at the games regularly.
Word of the group spread, and they began getting regular requests to perform all around the country, and having recently gained nonprofit status, the Pacemakers are able to apply for grants allowing them to afford to travel. When they do travel to another city, they put out a call in advance, inviting local seniors to come to the event and dance with them.
No matter where they dance, the senior team members dance with pep and passion to songs beginning in the 1940s era to the modern day, dazzling — and inspiring — fans.
I watched you and it’s making me go back to the gym! people say.
If you can do it, I feel I can do it, too.
It’s a beautiful thing.
A life-changing experience no one expected
For Susan, one of the best things about the Pacemakers is the effect on its members. Phyllis Bogart, a 76-year-old Pacemaker from Long Island, joined last year, and it’s been an amazing experience.
“For a senior person to have the opportunity to do so many new things is wonderful; it’s life changing,” says Phyllis, a lifelong dance hobbyist. “I always say the dance floor is one of my happy places.”
“I think it’s the greatest thing in the world. Dancing helps with physical health and mental agility,” says Heather Van Arsdel, of Upstate New York. A longtime professional dancer and former dancer for the New York Knicks, Heather, Susan says, linked arms with her to start the Pacemakers and she continues to collaborate with her on choreography for the team. “You age only when you stop living,” Heather says.
Exactly, says Susan, now 63. “We want seniors to know that you can be a healthy senior. You don’t have to climb Mt. Everest. Just keep moving your body.”
For Susan, there is simply no room for shame or self-consciousness about age in The Pacemakers. “With us, there is no expiration date. We are very loud and proud. ‘Old’ is actually not an insult to us; it’s a badge of honor and it’s aspirational. If somebody calls me old, I say, ‘Thank you!’ I am old and I’m proud that I got here.”
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