Barbara Hill presses play on the computer and, to the cheery chords of leader Dance Monkey, flutters around the shed with her cane, demonstrating an advanced boot-slide sequence.
Her husband, Peter, looks at her fondly. Even after all these years, it seems incredible to her that Barbara can take a sheet of steps and immediately figure out the movements as she reads.
Peter, 76, is a personal trainer and fitness instructor, and Barbara, 79, is a line dance teacher. Through their combined efforts, they share a large shed on their property in Fryerstown, a picturesque township in the Goldfields region of Victoria.
Half of the shed is dedicated to Peter’s gym equipment. He broke his neck in a car accident in 2013 and ended up in a coma for weeks, then in a wheelchair. He set up this gym to help his rehabilitation. It’s a bit cobbled in places (cushions and bar stools in front of squeaky weight machines), but has a solid 50-year experience in fitness.
The rest are left free to dance. Years ago, Barbara’s parents, Ernie and Elsie, taught dance classes here, trained debutants and organized a monthly event that attracted people from Melbourne. The walls are lined with ancient and modern sequence names: Cherry Tree Saunter, Tina Tango, Acapulco Cha Cha.
“My dad used to spend hours cutting up pieces of cardboard,” says Barbara. When she met Peter in 1991, the couple helped with those classes. Peter’s job was to wield the giant arrow to signal the next dance. Sometimes he also helped the stragglers with the more difficult steps.
According to the health department, only one in 10 Australians over the age of 50 gets enough exercise for any cardiovascular benefit. In terms of physical benefits, a more engaged exercise routine improves overall movement and stability, supports the immune system, and reduces the risk of disease, including chronic disease.
“It’s about quality of life, even being more comfortable standing and walking down the street,” says Peter. His clients include Matt, who is 87 years old and still pumps 10-pound weights, and Jess, 93. Barbara’s oldest dancers are in their eighties.
“Dances are very good at keeping people’s memories active,” he says. “We had a lady who ended up having Alzheimer’s. I would visit her in the hospital and she had forgotten everything else, but she would look at me and say: ‘Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, dancing.’
Barbara’s love of dance began with ballroom dancing when she was 14 years old, at the Orama Ballroom in Footscray. “After having been going there for three weeks, they put me on staff,” he says. It was 1955, and most of his classes were made up of Italian and Greek men, new immigrants, eager to meet women.
Years later, it was Peter’s mother who made Barbara dance in line, when she was in her 50s. And then he got Barbara into Peter too. “She said she had a son who had just been dumped, and that she would go out with him,” laughs Barbara. “It was the best thing anyone did for me.”
Peter took Barbara on a date at Fisherman’s Grotto in Carlton. “The first thing he ordered was the lobster.”
When the couple moved to Fryerstown, their line dance classes became popular thanks to the interest of a landlady from a local pub. “I had to learn fast and smart, so I started going to all the classes in Melbourne and bought the sheets from them,” says Barbara. Now use the online resource Copper Knob, which has step sheets and video demonstrations.
Many of the early adopters still attend classes on Tuesdays and Saturdays and often attend Peter’s bootcamps and personal training sessions as well.
“Most of them are widows, so it’s a social outlet for them,” says Barbara.
Saturday afternoon class begins to arrive, braving the storm outside. Barbara is a ball of energy, leading the way through songs like Cowboy Hustle, Waltz Across Texas, and Hey Senorita, often cheesy danceable remixes, and screaming instructions. There’s a lot of laughter for the next 90 minutes as the more uncoordinated attendees try to keep up with her.
Among them is Gail Rozvaczy, a 60-year-old beautician who recently bought her first pair of cowboy boots, to really do the classes justice. They are a far cry from her old Jane Fonda tights.
Gail started coming here with her bitsa dogs Ellis and Murphy eight years ago. “Pete put a note in everyone’s mailbox saying he was starting a gym,” she says. “We thought, ‘My God, who is this person?'”
“It’s not cutting edge,” he says of the shed, “but it works really well. I’d rather this than go somewhere covered in mirrors. And it’s affordable: Pete is about the people, not the money. He just gives and gives. “
Peter intervenes: “The people who come here help me with my broken neck more than I help them. I have to do the exercise with them 90% of the time, which improves my flexibility and strength ”.
Before the pandemic, Peter had been driving to Melbourne twice a week, to teach gymnastics and water aerobics classes in four retirement villages (“of course, I make all the low people go deep down”), which now It has been narrowed down to one, in order to focus on the local community with Barbara.
Some of the customers wouldn’t say “shit for a shilling” when they first showed up, says Peter, but now they respond with enthusiasm.
“Most of the time we all talk and he scolds us,” says Gail. “We tell him that we are exercising our language.”
Pranks are undoubtedly part of Peter’s package. His t-shirt today reads “If I offend you, my work here is done,” one of a collection of similar sentiments, and then there’s his catchphrase, used in response to everything from being late until someone turns his cheek back: “Oh , yeah, “He’ll draw the words.” Right. “
When Barbara tells Guardian Australia that she will be 80 in two weeks, Peter chimes in with, “Oh, poor bastard.” But then there’s that look again, the one he gives her laden with admiration.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism