Schenectady County

He’s 84 and still dancing

For John Detwyler, any activity is good activity.

For John Detwyler, any activity is good activity.

But any activity that involves an opportunity to swing dance, now that’s a reason to put on his dancing shoes.

Detwyler has been swing dancing for more than 20 years. On a trip to Nicaragua, he taught the basics of East Coast swing to locals and has also dabbled in ballroom dancing.

He jokes that it’s what keeps him young: “How old do I look? 65? 70? That’s the average guess.”

Actually, he’s 84 years old, but his dance moves beg to differ.

Detwyler is a member of the Live Life Through Dance summer program class, one of six Tapping into the Arts “mini-sessions” offered to senior citizens, youth, and learning and developmentally disabled persons.

Tapping into the Arts is an intergenerational program aimed at providing arts education to members of the community while bringing together people of different walks of life. The program is in a pilot stage, but is expected to continue through the summer and into the fall and spring. Weekly classes are offered in dance, watercolor, acting, singing and other forms of art, as well as weekend workshops.

Integrates groups

The program represents a collaboration between the Schenectady ARC, the Schenectady County Department of Senior and Long Term Care Services, and the Schenectady Light Opera Company, which provides the facility for the classes, according to Mark Sheehan, Director of New Initiatives at ARC.

Sheehan said that the program provides a unique opportunity for all members of the community by integrating three unique groups and letting them explore artistically.

Detwyler is the only senior citizen in the dance class, and while he says he was surprised on day one, he really enjoys spending time with his classmates: a group of six young adults from ARC. “It’s great that these kids are here. We need to realize we’re all just human beings, no matter how different we seem. We should be recognized for our talents,” he said.

Many of the students have never danced before and selected Live Life Through Dance as a way to explore something different. A few, however, took the class to build on their passion for dance.

Tim Primeau, 21, developed a love for ballet and learned the basics by watching videos on YouTube. His basic training helped him in the class, especially during waltzes and partner dances, but every ability level is welcome.

Living Life Through Dance is taught by Janet Murphy, a former Rockette and a very involved community member. Detwyler said that the success of the class is due to Murphy’s flexibility. She caters the themes of each class to her students’ interests. From swing to ballroom and everything in between, Murphy’s life-long dance experience is what holds the class together.

“They all have a good time moving around, but I also teach them about the history. A lot of dance classes only take dance for what it is today, but it’s nice that you can carry on certain traditions through teaching,” Murphy said.

The recent rebirth of downtown life has Schenectady growing into more of an arts community, which Detwyler said is a drawing card. It’s bringing both young and old people into the area, giving everyone an opportunity to get more involved in the arts, he said.

“Older folks need stimulation and this is a good way to get us involved and to meet other people in the community,” he said.

Memo: Information about the Tapping Into The Arts program can be found at: or by calling the Schenectady County Department of Senior and Long Term Care Services at 382-8481, extension 1003

Categories: Life and Arts

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