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Midland Park's Dancing Seniors Get Happy

Syncopated Seniors and dance class attendees practice a routine. Photo Credit: Melissa Heule
Don Petrillo and Marilyn Dunkel Photo Credit: Melissa Heule
Fern Gedney, Jean Martin, Dolores Macaluso, Carol Lee Parisi, Joan Spielman, Cathy Brennan, Peg Gallagher, Carolyn Pflueger, Carolyn Ganzer, Rita Valvano and Roseanne Koncelik. Photo Credit: Melissa Heule

MIDLAND PARK, N.J. -- Two former Radio City Rockettes are helping area seniors who've gotta dance: The  "Syncopated Seniors" have been meeting at the Northwestern Regional Senior Activity Center in Midland Park to work on tap routines.

With members ranging from their 60s through their 90s, the group makes appearances at community events and stage shows throughout North Jersey. Jean Martin recently perfected hand raises and turns in group choreography as her co-leader, Fern Gedney, performed with maracas and walking sticks while shuffling along to the song "Copacabana."

"She watches me like a hawk. She sees everything," 86-year-old Don Petrillo said of Gedney, a former musician and curator of a research department at Fashion Institute of Technology. "She knows when I am flapping when instead I should be flopping."Gedney began dancing at 3 years old, went to New York at 18 and filled one of only three open spots in the group in the early 1960s. One of her 97-year-old teachers, Helen Flannigan, still teaches today. Despite two knee replacements, Gedney has danced through age 74.

"All of them have got the idea that they have to keep doing this," Gedney said.

The group will participate with others  at the 26th Annual Interstate Senior's Show in Fair Lawn on Sept. 27. Tickets went on sale last week and all 170 seats ordinarily y filled by family and friends have sold out.

"Doctors love it because it encompasses a lot of different things that the elderly need to do to keep active," Gedney said. "You've got to engage your brain as well as your body."

Many of those who returned to dance, like Gedney, did so after retiring from the corporate world.

"We've all been through trials and tribulations," said Dolores Steffen, who has been dancing for the past 15 years. "You forget your troubles and feel happy."

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