by Trung Hieu
This summer morning, on a pavement near a lake in Ha Noi, a male dancer, nearly 80 years old, stands with his 70-year-old female partner.
Together, they take short, quick steps, precisely following the rhythm belting out from an old CD player. And they never step on each other's feet.
Now and again, they smile, seemingly unaware of the others standing around them, including the curious foreigners who are constantly taking photos.
While Buoc Nhay Hoan Vu (Dancing with the Stars), a TV game show, has become a huge commercial success and the nightclubs are filled with terrible, loud beats to entertain the young people, many pavements and other places near Ha Noi's lakes now host dance clubs for the elderly. They open early in the morning and play music from CD players.
Le Thi Tan, a retired woman living on Giang Vo Street, said the dance club for old people in her neighbourhood was started by one of her retired neighbours who used to work for an art organisation. She was determined to help give the locals access to the dance art.
"So, from a group of female retirees who often practised their morning exercises together and walked around the lake, we formed five dancing pairs.
"As all of us were women, we felt very comfortable about dancing in our canvas shoes while practising the waltz or cha cha cha for the first time in our lives," Nhan said.
"We were all very excited. After practising the steps for women, we began to practise the steps for men. But none of us wanted to dance the steps of a male partner, so we had to take turns."
Nhan said the old women mastered the steps very quickly.
"But there is a big difference between knowing the steps by heart and dancing gracefully while correctly following the beat of the music," she added.
The dances they love most include the cha cha cha, slow waltz and tango because of the elegance of these dance forms.
"All dances for the elderly must be quite slow, so we can keep pace with them," she explained.
With the establishment of the first group, their numbers increased. Some of these retired women persuaded their husbands to practise with them. Gradually, the group attracted 10 old men, accounting for 30 per cent of their membership.
But here lies the problem. Because of the imbalanced number of female and male dancers, the women have to queue up to get a chance with one of the male partners.
So it's important for the elderly men to change their point of view.
Nguyen Duc Nhan, 74, who often plays badminton, said he was afraid of dancing.
"I am afraid because our legs are now stiff. If I go dancing with my wife, that would be okay. But if I go dancing without her, I am afraid she would suspect me of having secret affairs with other women."
I think dancing is not only for young people. Although there are many kinds of physical exercises the elderly can do, such as walking, taichi and yoga, dancing still has a special appeal, despite the "cultural hindrances" of Oriental people.
Many dance clubs for the elderly have recently been established in numerous cities and provinces, not only in major cities.
Compared to many other sports, dancing has an advantage in that it can be practised by different age groups. Thus, the preconception of society that dancing is only for the young and those who live a libertine lifestyle, further implying that the elderly should not dance, is slowly being erased.
Doctors and geriatric experts have also expounded the impact dancing has on one's health and beauty, giving people a more accurate perspective of this art.
Pham Kieu Thanh from Dong Da District, who often dances beside Van Lake, near Temple of Literature, said, "Dancing is a sport. I read many scientific reports before I took up dancing. It is both physical exercise and an art.
"After practising for some months, my health improved greatly. I am trying to persuade my husband to dance with us. But it is not easy."
According to Vice Rector of Tu Son Sports College Nguyen Kim Xuan, the movements achieved in dancing provides a workout for the muscles, heart muscles and other organs, helping to prevent some ailments, such as respiratory problems and constipation, as well as helping the body to adapt to a poor environment, as produced by sudden weather changes, for example.
Body movements also help the elderly overcome some ailments, such as backache, headache and insomnia.
"Dancing both improves health for all age groups and improves people's love lives."
Parts of the body are connected to pressure points on the sole of the foot, so dancing is one way of massaging the whole body, while improving blood circulation.
Moreover, while dancing, the elderly must remember the basic steps of each dance, allowing them to practise using their memory, which wards off forgetfulness and spiritual malaise, which are common problems in modern society.
Nguyen Phuong Ha, who lives on Quoc Tu Giam Street, dances every day. She said the elderly felt cheerful when they dance.
"Dancing is a community activity, so it helps the old people to live in harmony with others, across all generations. Then, they do not feel lonely or depressed," she said.
So to the elderly, and everyone else, let's dance! — VNS