All it took was one country-themed cruise and Frank LaFave was on his way to becoming a dance floor cowboy.
The 66-year-old Waterford resident, hopped aboard a ship sailing out of Miami in 1993 with his wife, Linda, and has been kicking up his heels ever since.
"It's great exercise. I've always liked music and dance," he said. "It's better than going to the gym and working out. It's a fun atmosphere and a great crowd of people."
When the cruise was over, he and Linda began taking line dancing lessons three nights a week.
"We met a good crowd and fit in and just built on that," he said.
LaFave, who worked for 35 years as a quality assurance specialist at the Watervliet Arsenal, got so involved in the line dancing scene he started shopping for western wear.
"I went to the cowboy shirts, I have boots and hats and I have all the gear. I've even done a couple of cattle drives," he chuckled.
The long-sleeved cowboy shirts proved too hot for out on the dance floor. "So I kind of went to T-shirts," he said.
Line dancing is just what it sounds like — people dance in lines. They all face in the same direction and do choreographed dance steps that go along with each song.
When LaFave started doing it back in the '90s, it was mainly to a country beat, but times have changed.
"There's a new one that we do to the old Michael Jackson's “Thriller.” We dance to a little bit of everything, so it's not just country line dancing anymore. It's line dancing," he explained.
"Back in the early 2000s, late '90s, we were trying to keep the younger people coming in and they wanted to dance to some of the newer music, so we do hip-hop, we do a little bit of this and that. We did the Backstreet Boys back in the day, Men in Black. There's a Latin music flavor coming in now."
At least three nights a week, LaFave can be found cutting a rug at Danceland in Latham. He still takes lessons and learns two new dances a week. Over the years, he's amassed an impressive repertoire. Remembering them all is like riding a bike, he said. When the music starts, the steps usually come back to him.
‘Residents love it’
Every year, he gathers a group of fellow line dancers to put on a show at four local nursing homes: St. Peter's Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Albany, Kingsway Arms Nursing Center in Schenectady, Van Rensselaer Manor in Troy and Maplewood Manor in Ballston Spa.
Dubbed The Sheriff's Dancers, his group is an informal one, consisting of between 12 and 30 members ranging in age from mid-20s to 70-plus.
"I bring the music and we just dance to the normal stuff that we dance to on a Friday night," he said.
At the latest show at Kingsway Arms, all of the tables and chairs were pushed aside in a large dining room and the residents gathered around to watch LaFave — known as The Sheriff on such occasions — and his group two-step and Tornado around the room.
"The residents love it, and he is very high energy," said Sheryl Manning, assistant director of recreation at Kingsway.
Line dancing is a new concept for many of the residents, she noted.
"They're used to doing the foxtrot and things like that, but they really enjoy it and they're very interactive, the dancers that come. They get the residents dancing and moving around too."
Fun for all
LaFave makes it a point to ensure everyone has a good time during the show.
"I'm a pretty energetic guy and I like to run around the floor and keep those people going and clapping and yee-hawing and whatever I can get them to do in physical activity," he said.
Most of the residents are confined to wheelchairs, but every now and again a more ambulatory resident will join in the dance.
LaFave said he thinks everyone who can should give it a try.
"It's a great time and I would totally recommend it to anybody," he said.