Energizers can't stop dancing, sharing good times

Members of the Lexington Athletic Club Energizers don't mind telling you they've had their share of health problems. When you get to their age, it comes with the territory: arthritis, bursitis, knee replacements, back surgeries, "we've got it all," said Mary Jo Holland, the group's instructor.

But like the bunny they're named for, this group of dancers, ages 52 to 83, just keeps on going.

And going.

And going.

"We visited a nursing home and performed, and one lady came up to me and said, 'Oh, honey, I couldn't do that. I'm 75.' And I said, 'Honey, I'm 77. Yes you can do it,'" said member Marlene Current.

"If Cloris Leachman can do it, we can, too," Holland said. "And we do it better. We like to think of ourselves as Dancing With the Stars without the costumes."

The group began 15 years ago as a senior exercise class for members of the Lexington Athletic Club. Drawing on years of experience as a dance teacher, Holland would warm up the participants with 15 minutes of line dancing before switching to aerobics.

But when Holland, 75, had double-knee replacement surgery and stepping was against her doctor's orders, the hourlong class went to an all-dance format, and the group loved it so much that's how it's stayed.

Now the 15 dance club members — 13 women and two men — practice three times a week for an hour each time, sliding and kicking and square-stepping their way through intricate chorus-line type routines to a repertoire that includes hundreds of songs.

From country, jazz, and '50s rock to Broadway, salsa, and even Michael Jackson's Thriller at Halloween, the group's musical tastes run the charts—and each song has its own fully choreographed routine.

The only requirement to join — besides Lexington Athletic club membership — is being able to stand on two legs and breathe, joked newest member Dianne Hughes, 52, who's been in the group a few months.

Of course, having a little rhythm never hurt, Holland added.

After just 30 minutes of steady dancing at a recent practice, the group worked up a sweat.

"When I came in the first day, I thought, 'This is going to be a piece of cake,'" said Vicki Sageser, a former University of Kentucky cheerleader and one of three members in the Energizers' "50s contingent."

"And an hour later, I walked out sweating," she said. "There's something right about what they're doing. To remember the dances and keep going like that. Even though I was a health and physical education teacher for 27 years, and taught this stuff, it was joining this group that got me to see the importance of keeping moving."

Karen Guarnieri, a dance student of Holland as a young girl, says, "It just says so much about what you can do with your life. That you don't have to just stop and sit down, no matter what your age."

Support system

Two of the Energizers members have been with Holland since the beginning. Many have been in the group 10 years or more. They're a tight-knit bunch who travel together at least once a year. For years they made an annual pilgrimage to Cancun, and they recently returned from a weeklong vacation on Cape Cod. They often take smaller trips to local dinner theaters and make playing cards and going out to dinner together a priority.

"The most important thing is we're a very good support group," said Holland.

"We've got a lot of widows in here. And we support each other," Current said. "We're an extended family, really."

Jean Doyle, who's danced with the group for 11 years, loves that the Energizers are friends who allow her to share her problems, but not dwell on them.

"They've gotten me through deaths and illnesses," she said. "We talk, and they say, 'We're thinking about you,' and then the music comes on and boom! We dance and it's an escape for at least an hour."

Ruby Rogan, 79, joined the group in February 2004, six weeks after her husband's death from Alzheimer's. She had been housebound caring for him for three years.

"They provided me with a way to get the exercise I needed by doing something that was also a lot of fun," Rogan said. "They accepted me immediately. It proved to be a lifesaver for me during a very trying time and continues to be a very satisfying part of it."

Reaching Out

At least three or four times a month, the Energizers perform for nursing homes, retirement homes, adult day care facilities, schools and just about wherever anyone asks them to come.

Spreading joy to the community is "kind of a ministry to us," Holland said. She recalled how one wheelchair-bound man at the veterans' home in Wilmore pushed himself up to salute the group after a performance. "We touch a lot of people."

Clients at Adult Day Inc. on Regency Road, one of the Energizers' favorite places to visit, love to "get up and participate" when the group comes to dance, said Robin Cooper, the agency's program manager.

"The Energizers are a wonderful bunch," she said. "They are so sweet and visit our clients before and after their performances, and it means so much to them."

In addition to their three weekly dance practices, many of the members of the Energizers work out daily at Lexington Athletic Club, walking, doing weights, aerobics, yoga and even zumba — "a Latino type dance where you do a lot of the same moves we do, but you shake all over," Guarnieri said.

"Our Energizers are a club within a club," said Mark Dickinson, Lexington Athletic Club manager. "They are a visual representation of the energy and enthusiasm that can be obtained from taking part in a senior physical fitness program."

"We like to go to perform at schools," Holland said. "We want them to know if you keep being active, you can wind up like us."

Still going.

And going.

And going.