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Dancing their way to fitness, friendship

Pauline Dolinky, front, demonstrates some line dancing steps for her students before starting the song at the Azalea Lane Recreation Center in Winter Park.

Pauline Dolinky, front, demonstrates some line dancing steps for her students before starting the song at the Azalea Lane Recreation Center in Winter Park.

Brittni Larson

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Her feet move in an organized pattern. Each step is structured, choreographed, but there’s a kind of flow in her arms. Pauline Dolinky puts the passion there. Her hands seem to feel the music, and a dance that’s meant to be in a line — it is line dancing — still has a sense of her. She puts her own twist on the moves, and her students watch attentively.

Every Saturday, a group of about 20 women gather at the Azalea Lane Recreation Center in Winter Park to learn and practice line dancing moves with Dolinky, who’s been teaching for 19 years. She loves the satisfaction of seeing her students get the steps.

“I feel six feet tall,” said Dolinky, who’s just a petite 4 feet 6 inches tall.

It’s also worth mentioning that she’ll be 80 years old this month. And that’s the case for nearly all of her students: While there were one or two younger than 60, the majority of those dancing were seniors. The benefits of line dancing are physical and mental for the participants, Dolinky said.

“It’s good for your heart, for your memory and for your weight, and of course the music makes you happy,” she said.

And a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine backs that up. It showed that dancing is associated with a lower risk of dementia.

Diane Petoskey, a physician who teaches line dancing in Altamonte, said that the recall of sequential steps, an important skill in line dancing, works your brain in a special way and stimulates memory, just like learning and speaking a foreign language.

“Research says that it’s the No. 1 best exercise for warding off dementia,” she said.

The students agreed, saying it’s a challenge to remember the steps and they’re always thinking about what’s next.

“It exercises your brain,” said Donna Maratta, 71, who started line dancing in 2004.

And of course, it’s great for the body, too. Not only is it good for losing weight and staying in shape, it’s good for balance and coordination, and can lower your risk of developing osteoporosis because it strengthens bones, according to the American Council on Exercise.

“In spite of all the little physical problems we get as we get older, we overcome it,” said Charlotte Truesdell, 82. “The more we move, the better we feel.”

It’s also a great alternative to sweating it out in the gym.

“I like the movement of the body rather than plain exercising,” said Mildred Coner, who at 89 has been dancing for 19 years.

The enjoyment is obvious. The shuffling sound of light feet fades as all types of music bump from the boom box in the front of the room, everything from disco to old Frank Sinatra to a very modern Shakira, and the women sing along, feel the music and get lost in the moves — in good and confused ways. Dolinky is always there to guide them, and after each song, the chatting starts up, because they’re all friends. Some, like Coner, who has trouble with her hip, come for a dance or two and then stay for the social aspect of the class.

“I’ve met the best friends of my whole life line dancing,” said Sandy Albano, a line dancing teacher who comes to learn from Dolinky and share new dances with the class.

The American Council on Exercise also cites dancing as a great way to reduce stress, enhance your mood and improve energy in a fun and lively environment. For these seniors, the environment seems to mean the most.

“It’s like a family,” student Nancy Shutts said.

Learn more

Line dancing classes are every Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Azalea Lane Recreation Center, 1045 Azalea Lane in Winter Park. For more information, contact instructor Pauline Dolinky at 321-217-7595. Classes cost $5.