Swinging seniors

Sabrina Strand

It all started with a little music. A few Gershwin tunes and some heart-shaped candies later, more than 50 seniors danced their Valentine’s Day away at the Levy Senior Center, providing reassurance that romance only gets better with age.

“I come to all the parties but I really enjoy the Valentine’s party because it gives me a chance to dance,” said partygoer Darlene Ahrenet, 82. “I’ve had two husbands and neither were big dancers.”

Boden’s dilemma was reflected on the Levy dance floor, where there were twice as many women as men.

One notable exception was Evanston resident Bill Ogg, the undisputable star of the dance floor. Ogg, an older man with red pants, a bright yellow jacket and personalized dancing shoes, said he has been dancing at the Levy center for “eight or nine years.”

“Bill is a show-off!” Ahrenet said. “He just can’t hold himself back.”

The Levy Senior Center, which has thrown holiday bashes on and off for several years, is located in downtown Evanston but plans to move to James Park in April.

The Valentine’s Day parties started “accidentally” with the Dick Peterson Orchestra, Levy staffer Leslie Wilson said. The center donated its space for orchestra rehearsals, and the orchestra repaid the seniors by entertaining at parties.

“Everyone enjoyed listening to the music and dancing a bit,” Wilson said. “When we noticed what a good time everyone was having, we started throwing parties with the orchestra as official entertainment. We’ve been doing it for a couple years now.”

The idea turned out to be a hit, and in no time seniors were attending the holiday bashes for $4 apiece.

“I started dancing later in life,” said Ogg, a retired systems analyst for CNA Insurance. “I dance at all the holiday parties.”

Ogg shares his love for dancing with Evanston resident Connie Mah, his partner on and off the dance floor. The couple’s dancing skills are reflected in “Two Step (Texas),” an acrylic portrait of the two created by artist Betty Wightman and selling for $150 in the Levy’s showroom.

Mah, who matched Ogg in a red dress with white polka dots, said she gets her dancing energy through an “active life,” eating the right food and exercising.

She said every Valentine’s Day with Ogg has been special.

“He always gets me flowers,” she said, pointing to the flowers on her matching red jacket. “Look, I’m the only lady here with a corsage!”

Other Levy members found the party just as entertaining as the star dancers. Evanston resident Esther Conrad celebrated her 87th birthday at the party Thursday.

Conrad, who already has been the guest of honor at four parties this year, gave a toast after being serenaded by the band. She said her only reservation was being escorted to the dance floor by Ogg.

“I have casts on both knees, so I couldn’t dance so well,” she said. “I used to win country- western dance awards with my husband, but today I looked like a jackrabbit!”

Conrad said she still enjoyed having two celebrations at once.

“I hope I have as good of a year next year as I am having this year with all of you,” she said.