By CYNTHIA ROBERTSON | La Mesa Courier
People who love line dancing often attest to a renewed sense of self-confidence. Adrienne Hart, who teaches the popular line dance class at La Mesa Adult Enrichment Center, has some first-hand experience on what it is to move from fear to living with joy and confidence.
Hart, a San Carlos resident, has everything to live and dance for. Just as she brings smiles to people who want to add a little extra exercise and fun to their personal lives, Hart had a similar motivation, albeit much stronger. For nearly 20 years, she had suffered from a debilitating panic disorder called agoraphobia during which she could not even leave her own home.
By a miracle she says is from God, she was healed of the disorder. Out of sheer gratitude, Hart wanted to bring back to life that hope she had as a little girl to dance. But she did not want to dance alone.
So Hart found company in her group of Rhinestone Grannies, a dance troupe of older women who perform one-hour shows that include dance, comedy and song. The youngest is Karen Bain, 65; the oldest, Betty Cleveland, 89. Now 80 years old, Hart had no idea that the troupe would be such a hit in the community.
Every December, the troupe holds a fundraiser for the local Warrior Foundation-Freedom Station. “This will be the 11th year. All the proceeds go to our local military heroes,” Hart said.
Hart’s story about overcoming agoraphobia has been such an inspiration for people that she began sharing her story with organizations and churches. She speaks about how the disorder started, what she experienced and how recovery came about for her.
“I am also currently working on a one-woman play about my struggles with agoraphobia,” Hart said.
The mainstay of Hart’s work is teaching line dance and the love of it. Several of her students have been with Hart since she started teaching.
“According to Alzheimer’s Association, [dancing is] one of the best things you can do to protect from developing the disease. Our class is a great place for exercise and meet new friends,” Hart said.
Barbara Jacobs, who has danced in Hart’s class for nine years, says that every week she feels rejuvenated after the class.
“I have learned that I can still dance, appropriate to my age, but the joy I feel is the same throughout the many years I have lived,” she said.
Donna Geiger, who’s been a student of Hart’s for 10 years, says that she has been given a great outlet for exercise as well as her own love of dancing.
“Most of all, we learn that even though our hips hurt and our knees crack, our eyes are weak and our balance is not as good as it used to be, ‘we ain’t dead yet,’” she said. “Our teacher is always on top of every movement and changing it to make it safe as well as fun. And most of all it is the fun and friendship.”
One of the first things that Hart explains in the line dance class is that the main goals are to exercise the body, the mind and to have fun. In each class, students warm up with Hart to a lively song before starting lessons. She usually reviews between six and nine dances per session.
Many of the dances are repeated during the year, with the music ranging from all genres, including country, Latin, Irish, jazz, swing, rock ‘n’ roll and even waltzes.
“My method is to slowly go over each step and then give counts, or beats, for each section,” Hart said.
Some students have some physical limitations, so Hart shows them how to modify a particular step to accommodate them. The 1 1/2 hour lessons include at least one five-minute break during the class.
“I remind them to drink water,” she said, “and we laugh a lot during the class. They especially love it when I make a mistake. My husband usually leads in the laughter.”
Hart laughs at herself along with them because, as she explained, she has everything to live and dance for now.
It’s the friendship, too, that keeps many of the students joining up with the Rhinestone Grannies.
“We are like a family,” Hart said. “We celebrate together, cry together, laugh together. The friendship and caring for each other is beautiful to see.”
Although mostly women are in the class, men are welcome, too. Hart’s own husband joins in on the fun after he sets up the equipment. And the group also includes John James, an original member of The Platters, who performs under the stage name Duke Richardson. James participates with the dancers when he isn’t on the road.
The classes take place each Monday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the La Mesa Adult Enrichment Center. Anyone 21 and over is welcome. The fee is $7 per class. For more information, go to rhinestonegrannies.com.
— Cynthia Robertson is a freelance writer and journalist based in San Carlos.