The dance was held in the event hall, which we decorated with Oscars-themed memorabilia, such as a red carpet, stars, and movie posters from the 1940s and 1950s. These posters advertised films such as Singing in the Rain, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Casa de Manana provided snacks and drinks for the event. A band was also hired to perform songs from when the residents were younger. Before the residents arrived, the lead singer, Delene, introduced herself to us and gave an introduction to the waltz. As the night went on, the songs varied by era and style of dance. We also set up a photo booth, and the cohort alternated in taking photos of the residents with a Polaroid camera that took fast-developing photos.
Early on in the evening, I met several residents named Rachel, her husband Alan, Carolyn, and Malcolm. Rachel took a particular interest in me and asked about how I was enjoying my experience at UCSD, as well as what my career goals were. She was intrigued by my desire to become an occupational therapist, as well as what the career entailed.
After we set up the decorations, the cohort stood along the red carpet, welcomed the residents to the dance, and ushered them to the photo booth. As the event hall filled, the band began to interact with the residents and hype them up for the evening ahead. Initially, residents were hesitant to dance, and members of the cohort began to dance in order to encourage them to follow our lead. Two of the first people to enter the dance floor were Rachel and Alan, whom I had met earlier in the evening. As I watched their slow dance, I wondered what memories the music and their dance must be bringing back to them. I wondered what significance this music and dance had had on their lives, and possibly their relationship. As Rachel and Alan danced, other residents followed suit and entered the dance floor.
Around this time, I was overjoyed when I saw Alice, the woman whom I had been partnered with during our last visit to Casa de Manana, enter into the event hall. I ran over to her and gave her a hug. She laughed and said that she was surprised that I remembered her. I danced with Alice for a few songs, then another woman, Elisa, asked me if I wanted to dance with her during the waltz song Delene was performing. I accepted, and Elisa and I entered the dance floor. Apart from the small lesson Delene had given us earlier, I had never done a waltz before. Elisa took the lead, and I did my best to follow along. After a while, the dance became difficult, as I lost count of my steps due to our constant spinning. Nevertheless, I continued on until the song ended. Everyone seemed impressed, as Delene told the audience over the microphone that it was my first time doing a waltz, and to give me a round of applause. I looked around nervously at the crowd, before giving a slight bow, then making my exit. Before I did, however, Rachel approached me and gave me tips on how to improve my waltz, saying that the trick is to step on every count in a square movement. She had me dance with Alan to demonstrate the proper movements. I appreciated her input.
After taking a break from dancing, another woman named Bonnie approached me and told me that she enjoyed my dancing and wanted to know if I would dance with her. I accepted. As Bonnie and I entered the dance floor, we joined a circle of seniors who were dancing while locking hands. As we danced, Bonnie sang the lyrics to the song under her breath, then told me that this music was popular when she was younger. Bonnie’s nostalgia signaled to me that what the cohort had set out to do by hosting this dance was succeeding.
As the crowd dwindled out, I knew that the dance had been a success. Some of my friends in the cohort complimented my dancing and asked how I had developed the courage to dance in front of everyone. What they did not realize was that, had I been in the presence of younger people, I would not have danced out of fear of judgment. However, I knew that the residents of Casa de Manana appreciated that we cared enough to spend the evening learning about dances and an era that meant so much to them, and that took the place of any judgment I could have received. The experiences I have had with interacting with elders through the Life Course Scholars Program have been very rewarding for me, but this dance reminded me that my presence, my desire to learn, to listen to these elders and truly hear what they have to say and see who they are when others dismiss them, makes a bigger impact on their lives than I could ever fathom.