Special Reports

As street changes, they’re still dancing

For many years they’ve been swinging it at 4851 South Tacoma Way. Swinging, and waltzing, and fox-trotting and two-stepping: all the old-time dances, done with verve and a truly infectious enjoyment.

Back in World War II, the site was a USO location, offering regular dances to the troops.

Now, 4851 South Tacoma Way is Metro Parks’ South Park Community Center, where every Sunday evening and Monday afternoon some 30 to 50 older folk get together for ballroom dancing, with live music and lunch.

The dance floor is hardwood, the music perky. But what makes this weekly dance special is the people that come. Some are in their 60s, some in their 90s, some single, some partnered. They sway across the floor with a spring in their step that belies their age. Most come from the Tacoma-Lakewood area, and most have been coming for years, chatting, meeting friends and even finding marriage partners at the dance. Here are some of their stories.


Smith, 85, who has a slender physique and a slight limp but nevertheless whirls the ladies round with a flourish. He tells this reporter to keep her elbows in while doing the cha-cha.

“I’ve been coming here for three years, dancing all my life. I like meeting people here. As you get older you have less opportunity to do that. I’ve made friends here: one special one, actually, I went skiing over the season with her. Then we started cycling, but I fell and broke my hip. I’m still a bit stiff, you can see … I go to all the dances around here, the Elks Club, the Manhattan. My favorite dance is the waltz, but I like swing, cha-cha, rumba. Right now I’m learning the tango.”


De Sordi, 93, who wears an elegant black-and-white dress with chunky earrings and looks way more like 75, if that. She’s singing along to “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”

“I’ve been coming here as long as they’ve been having dances! I love to dance. I can’t dance like I used to, but I can still move. Ever since I raised my family I’ve been dancing, sometimes we’d go to three a day, thirty years ago. Now I just go here, once a week. My daughter-in-law drives me in. Why do I dance? I like the movement, I feel good when I’m dancing. It’s a very good way to get exercise. And the people here are friendly, not clannish. The women are not superpossessive (if you don’t have a partner). If you’ve been away for a few weeks they make you feel welcome back. My favorite dance is the Viennese waltz. I don’t have good balance, so the ones where the man spins you aren’t so good! With the waltz, you have support – that’s what most of us need as we get older.”


Kinney, 66, who’s tall with smooth hair and a confident gaze.

“I’ve been coming about three or four years, Sundays and Mondays, and I also go to the Elks’ singles night on Thursdays and Tacoma Eagles on Fridays. I get around. It’s a good form of exercise, of course, and I enjoy meeting people. I’ve always enjoyed dancing, my mother taught me, and now I’ve developed my own type of swing, where I can swing my partner round my head. My favorite is ’50s and ’60s dance, rock ’n’ roll, and waltzes.”


Powell is younger than the dancers and sings vocals in the band Casanova with her pianist husband, Jim Blade. Together, they do the rounds of all the local ballroom dances, and clearly love the gigs.

“Bringing music to people who want to dance and socialize, sharing our gift, brings pleasure to us and other people. We’ve seen everything here: People get engaged, married, probably even divorced! I’ll be lucky when I’m 70 to be doing what these dancers are doing: Ruth De Sordi, for example. These people represent the backbone of America, a part we’ll never see again, where you just rolled up your sleeves and got on with things, worked hard and enjoyed life.”


Buckley has helped Metro Parks in the kitchen making the dancers’ lunch for seven years now.

“I love to see them come. They open up and come to life. They’re young in spirit, they care about each other. They could be sitting around at home, but they come, even in terrible weather. I love being with them.

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568