Party Like You’re 99!
By Alex Cantatore
Charlene Perry calls out the title.
Papers shuffle as men and women flip through thick binders to find the right page of sheet music.
And then, Jim Ingram’s Big Band busts into song – and dozens of fit, active seniors hit the dance floor.
Nearly every Wednesday, the Turlock Senior Center plays host to the most happening senior dance in town. It’s one of those hidden gems of Stanislaus County, an unassuming building tucked right behind the Turlock Public Library that becomes a senior speakeasy — without any alcohol, of course.
As a few couples go for elaborate spins and twirls, another senior leans over with a confidential whisper about her fellow dancers.
“Some of ‘em are almost 100, and yet you wouldn’t know,” she says.
She’s right. It’s hard to gauge any dancer’s age as they cut a rug, with youth and vitality that some people in their 30s lack.
Joe Calderon dances the night away every week with his wife, Olga. They’ve been married 50 years, yet they dance like newlyweds.
It’s dancing, moving, that keeps him young, Calderon says. He spent his life living actively, and eating healthy food, and that lets him dance through his retirement.
The Calderons and other seniors, married and single alike, dance through the night to all sorts of music — not just big band. Old standards like “New York, New York” are interspersed with rock ’n’ roll like “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and show tunes like “Sunrise, Sunset.”
Sure, the seniors sit down between every song to catch a breather. And there’s a half-hour break for healthy snacks and gossip during the two-and-a- half hour dance. But the seniors get right back up as the band strikes the next tune.
At the heart of these near-weekly senior dances is Jim Ingram’s Big Band. Ingram, who owned a Turlock music store, founded the band at least 30 years ago.
“He’d been playing music since he was a little kid,” his daughter Perry said.
Ingram passed in 2002, but Perry has carried on his legacy as band leader.
Everyone in the rag-tag band played music before joining, but some hadn’t touched an instrument since middle school. Like Ingram, a love of music brought them all to the band.
“Music is therapeutic,” Perry said. “Work is stressful, and this is a good way to kick back.”
Playing music is good for you in more ways than one, Perry says. She says some band members — most seniors themselves — hadn’t used alphabetical order in years, before picking up their book of more than 300 songs.
“It’s really good for the brain,” Perry says.
Jim Ingram’s Big Band plays at the Turlock Senior Center 1191 Cahill Ave., Turlock, from 7:30 to 10 p.m. most Wednesdays.