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Old dance club needs new dancers

Lake City resident Jackie Aiken dances with Fayetteville resident Bob McSwiggen during a meeting of the Brookdale Dince and Dance Club in Jonesboro last Friday. Members gather every Friday night to share a covered-dish dinner followed by dancing.

Lake City resident Jackie Aiken dances with Fayetteville resident Bob McSwiggen during a meeting of the Brookdale Dince and Dance Club in Jonesboro last Friday. Members gather every Friday night to share a covered-dish dinner followed by dancing.

— He may be 87, but Morrow resident Richard Sadler can still sweep the ladies off their feet.

Every Friday night, Sadler dresses up and heads to the Jim Huie Recreation Center in Jonesboro. The London, England-native walks into the Brookdale Dine and Dance Club and plays the role of the ladies’ man. He’s one of the few men who attends club meetings.

By the end of the night, Sadler has danced with every woman in the room.

“I’ve always been a softie,” Sadler said. “I don’t mind doing it. Why should these women have to sit here by themselves with no one to dance with?”

There are fewer men like Sadler to dance with the women at Brookdale Dine and Dance Club, which caters to Southern Crescent residents over 55.

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Curt Yeomans

Stockbridge resident Jo Milligan and Morrow resident Richard Sadler share a laugh during a meeting of the Brookdale Dine and Dance Club in Jonesboro last Friday. Attendance at the senior citizens club has dwindled in recent years as members die or become too ill to continue coming to meetings.

photo

Curt Yeomans

Morrow resident Virginia Jennings and Jonesboro resident Ray Hale slow dance together Friday during a meeting of the Brookdale Dine and Dance Club at the Jim Huie Recreation in Jonesboro.

Of course, there are also fewer women in the room for Sadler and his friends to dance with.

It’s an issue plaguing the 30-year old group right now. Club President Deloris Schaffer said Brookdale once had as many as 100 people attend meetings. The club now draws 20 attendees on a good night.

“Business has been bad,” Schaffer said. “I think we’ve had 15 people showing up lately and that’s too low.”

The group meets every Friday night from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. at the center, located at 9045 Tara Blvd.

Schaffer said the lower number of attendees had led to a slower atmosphere at meetings. Only a handful of members attend the covered-dish dinner at the beginning of the meetings and additional members trickle in before the dancing begins.

Health has been a factor in the decreasing attendance, she said.

“I think there’s around 70 members now but many of them have gotten older and they can’t see to drive at night. This winter’s also been bad for attendance. People have been sick and all,” Schaffer said.

Many of the members who do still attend regularly are in their 70s and 80s. Some club members said that means the group needs an infusion of younger blood to keep it going.

“No new ones are coming, but we’re trying to encourage them to come,” said Riverdale resident Bob Newman, 86.

Schaffer said the membership situation has gotten so bad she is willing to overlook the club’s minimum age limit.

“It’s supposed to only be for people over 55, but if someone younger than that comes, I won’t turn them away,” she said.

Newman said the group had more than twice as many attending members five years ago as it has now. He and Stockbridge resident Jo Milligan, 72, call members every Thursday to see who will be able to come to that week’s meeting.

“Many of them can’t attend anymore but we keep them on the membership list anyway,” Milligan said. “That way, we can find out how they are doing.”

As Newman read off the reasons why some members couldn’t attend last week’s meeting, the reality of the club’s situation comes into focus.

There are a few members who couldn’t attend because they were out of town but other members couldn’t attend because they couldn’t see at night. Other members were sick. One was recovering from hip surgery.

But, several members said the dwindling number of dancers isn’t putting a damper on their spirits.

“It’s a nice group of people,” Sadler said. “There’s no smoking and no boozing. It’s just a pleasant atmosphere and everybody cares about each other.”

Like Sadler, Newman also tries to dance with every woman in the room before he goes home for the night. “Most of them don’t have a regular dance partner and I hate to see ladies sit all night by themselves,” he said.

Fayetteville resident Maydell Fersh, 85, said the dwindling attendance is starting to pose a problem that goes beyond not having enough dancers.

“We just don’t have enough people to pay the band,” said Fersh, referring to the Country Gentleman Band who alternates with a DJ to provide music each week.

Despite that issue, members of the band said the elderly dancers are a delight to play for, which makes it one of their favorite gigs to play.

“I really enjoy this gig because they truly enjoy themselves,” said band member Howard “Bud” Jones.

Schaffer said the group hopes to draw a large crowd for its St. Patrick’s Day Dance March 15 at the center. She said the dance room will be decorated in green for the event and members are encouraged to wear Irish-themed attire.