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Man credits square dancing with helping manage kidney disease

Man credits square dancing with helping manage kidney disease

Elmer Toops kisses his wife, Betty, at the Hazel Dell Grange Hall recently. Toops, 74, continues to go square dancing with his wife despite being diagnosed with kidney failure two years ago.

By Marissa Harshman
Columbian Staff Reporter

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Elmer Toops and his wife, Betty, square dance during an event at the Hazel Dell Grange Hall recently. Toops was diagnosed with kidney failure two years ago. Recently, his dialysis provider named him one of the country’s 20 “Champions in Motion” for staying physically active despite his kidney disease.


Elmer Toops, 74, and his wife, Betty, dance at the Hazel Dell Grange. The Toops have square danced for 32 years, even as Elmer endures kidney failure.


Elmer Toops receives a bouquet of roses from his friend RuthAnne Barnard during a square dance at the Hazel Dell Grange recently. Toops and his wife, Betty, are members of the Buzzin’ Bees square dance club in Hazel Dell.

Elmer and Betty Toops danced their first square dance in 1980. In the 32 years that have followed, nothing’s stopped their dancing.

Their two children, now adults, took dance lessons. Weekends concluded with Sunday evening dances. Family vacations included square-dance festivals.


You can do-si-do your way to better health at these upcoming events:

• Round-dancing lessons with Dorothy Lowder: 3-6 p.m. every Sunday at Clark County Square Dance Center, 10713 N.E. 117th Ave., Vancouver. First lesson free; $5 per lesson after. 503-232-7544.

• Country line-dance lessons, 6:30- 8 p.m. every Tuesday at Fishers Grange No. 211, 814 N.E. 162nd Ave., Vancouver. Admission is $4. 360-521-8360.

• Square dance with the Buzzin’ Bees, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 1 at Hazel Dell Grange No. 1124, 7509 N.E. Hazel Dell Ave., Vancouver. Admission is $6. 360-833-0879.

• Sunday dances, 2-4 p.m. every Sunday at Luepke Senior Center, 1009 E. McLoughlin Blvd., Vancouver. Admission is $3. 360-487-7055.

Not even Elmer’s end-stage renal disease diagnosis two years ago has been able to stop the dancing duo. In fact, Betty believes the dancing is what keeps Elmer healthy after nearly four decades with a disease that has slowly destroyed his kidneys.

“That’s what keeps him going,” she said. “I truly believe it was the square dancing and the physical exercise. That’s why his kidney function went as long as it did.”

Elmer was 35 years old when routine blood work revealed he had Berger’s disease.

Berger’s disease develops when an antibody lodges in the kidneys, hampering their ability to filter waste, water and electrolytes from the blood. Over time, it can lead to blood and protein in one’s urine, high blood pressure, and swollen hands and feet, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Berger’s disease usually progresses slowly over many years, and, for some, leads to end-stage renal (or kidney) disease, according to Mayo Clinic.

That’s ultimately what happened to Elmer, who turned 74 last month.

His kidney function continued to decline until it reached about 10 percent in September 2010. That’s when he started dialysis.

Even with three, four-hour dialysis treatments a week, the Camas couple has kept their dancing routine.

They participate in their club dances twice a month during the fall and winter, and they help teach new dancers the techniques of square dancing. In the summer, they travel to square dance festivals and visit other clubs for dances. For the out-of-town trips, Elmer coordinates with dialysis centers in the area to receive treatment.

In the last few years, as the disease progressed, Elmer has limited the number of dances he does each night. But he’s determined to stick to square dancing despite the diagnosis.

“Other than bad kidneys, there’s nothing wrong with me,” he said.

Besides dialysis, the only other treatment option for renal failure is a kidney transplant. In November 2011, Elmer was added to the transplant list at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland — an opportunity people his age aren’t normally afforded. Elmer credits his good health.

Kendra Weakley, a registered dietitian at Elmer’s dialysis provider, Fresenius Medical Care in Vancouver, said exercise and diet are important for dialysis patients.

People on dialysis get the same benefits from exercise that others do. But the benefits of managed body weight and blood pressure are of particular importance for dialysis patients, she said. Good health helps prevent further complications and keeps dialysis patients out of the hospital, Weakley said.

Fresenius Medical Care recently honored Elmer as a “Champion in Motion,” a national award given to 20 people who demonstrate a commitment to physical fitness and living well, despite chronic kidney disease.

“I’m not done living yet,” Elmer said. “I want to keep going.”


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Get into the Social Whirl

Stewart F. House / Special Contributor

Get into the social whirl: Newly single seniors find diversions that forge new bonds

KATHLEEN GREEN The Dallas Morning News Special Contributor
Published: 12 November 2012 04:36 PM

Senior Living 2012: Resources for seniors in North Texas
These single folks may be old enough to be AARP members, but they’re not sitting at home watching the paint peel.

Some of these seniors have found themselves alone and with unexpected free time due to an empty nest, divorce or a spouse’s death, but whatever the reason, these 55- to 65-year-olds have more opportunities to socialize and stay active than hours in the day. There’s dancing, open-mike nights, musical productions, book clubs, travel groups, volunteer work, investment clubs and more.

By day, Nancy Barr is a legal secretary for the law firm Littler Mendelson in downtown Dallas. At night, she kicks up her heels in a way she never expected: square dancing.

“I would have never in one million years thought I’d enjoy square dancing,” says Barr, 55, of Lake Highlands, who is divorced. “I’m a rock-and-roller type of girl.”

But after Nancy’s friend persuaded her to go on a cruise with some square dance friends in 2009, she loved the group so much that she signed up for dance lessons. Now Nancy is part of the Rebel Rousers with the North Texas Square and Round Dance Association. Nancy gets great exercise and has made a ton of new friends.

“If single guys are looking for a way to meet single women, square dancing is where they should be,” she says. “There are numerous couples who have met through square dancing.”

Jerri Locke, director of the Senior Access Program at Methodist Health System, has seen firsthand how such gatherings and programs for seniors can lead to newfound happiness.

They may first start out in a grief support group after losing a spouse, she says. With time, people forge new bonds through fitness classes, language courses or social events at either of Methodist’s two campuses.

When Locke put together a recent semiformal dance, she was afraid no one would come, but about 300 people showed up.

“It was supposed to be over at 8 or 9. I finally did like at a club and I turned out all the lights and said, ‘This is the last dance. Y’all have got to go home.’”

Those Methodist programs have been a lifesaver for Pleasant Grove resident Roena MacKey, who got more involved after health issues forced her to retire as a warrant confirmation supervisor for the city of Dallas.

“There’s no reason for anyone to sit at home and say, ‘I don’t have anything to do.’ I need to keep busy as much as possible in order to keep my brain running, or otherwise it might collapse on me at any minute,” says MacKey, who is divorced and has five grown children and three grandchildren.

At first, she attended health and education seminars, but now she looks forward to open-mike night at Charlton Methodist.

“You’d be amazed with the people you meet in our age group and how talented we are,” says MacKey, 58. “Since I’ve become this beautiful age and with some limitations, I was looking to find me something to do and to help me to socialize with more people. I sure have made a lot of friends.”

Elexis Rice, a motivational, inspirational and educational speaker, taps into numerous groups around town for her social life.

“There’s a ton of stuff to do in this city that’s age appropriate,” says Rice, 57, of Addison. “I’ll pop in and out of various things,” which have included groups (a website where you can find local groups), an investment club, the blues music scene and dance lessons.

“Dancing is a great way to meet people because you rotate,” she says. “You dance with like 50 different people in the course of the night, even if it’s two minutes or one song.”

Rice — who recently co-wrote Life and Love Extraordinaire: Tales of How People Met Their Soul Mates, including 45 couples she introduced to each other — often coaches her clients on how to get out there and meet potential soul mates.

“Once people get married, have their kids and they’re grown, then they never get their mojo back. So then they just go into hiding,” she says.

For awhile now, Fred Musacchio, 62, has immersed himself in two things he’s always loved: musicals and police work. Musacchio, a retired family lawyer, wanted to be a police officer in his youth but was turned away because of his eyesight. Now he volunteers with the Duncanville Police Department.

Musacchio, who is divorced, also often spends time at the Hopkins Senior Center in Duncanville where he just wrapped a musical production of Virgil’s Wedding. Being in a musical is not such a stretch for Musacchio, who performed in them in high school. His love for guitar has landed him in Billy’s Buckaroos, a group of friends at the senior center who share music together.
“I’ve met a lot of people that I really enjoy conversing with,” Musacchio says.
“Loneliness is a choice,” says Rice. “There are plenty of opportunities here.”

Kathleen Green is a Plano freelance writer.

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Don’t Be a Square — Dance

Don’t Be a Square — Dance! Do-Si-Do Fitness

WebMD Feature

July 9, 2001 — “Bow to your partner, bow to your corner, circle left, alemand left … swing and promenade home.”

In squares of eight across the country, Americans from senior-citizen age on down are linking arms, sashaying, and “do-si-doing” themselves to longer, healthier, and happier lives. They’re having a blast and also lowering their risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer, age-related memory loss, osteoporosis, and depression.

Good for Body and Mind

With all its moving, twisting, and turning, square dancing provides more than the daily dose of heart- and bone-healthy physical activity. Remembering all the calls — from “do-si-do” to ‘alemand’ — keeps the mind sharp, potentially staving off age-related memory loss, experts say. And the companionship that regular square dancing offers is an antidote to depression and loneliness, a statement confirmed by square-dancing advocates everywhere.

Take Larry McKinley, a 62-year-old who has been square dancing for 30-plus years with his wife, Sue — who, incidentally, he met at a square dance. “We do it as often as we can, maybe five or six times a week,” he tells WebMD.

“The listening — and executing the commands — takes deep concentration. The twisting and turning are not too hard on you, but give your body the exercise that it needs,” he says.

McKinley’s club, the London Bridge Square Dance Club of Lake Havasu, Ariz., has 80 members, and the average age of a member is 75.

“We recently graduated an 84-year-old,” he says. “Graduated,” in square-dancing terms, means the student has earned a Mainstream dance level.

There are four levels of square dancing, McKinley tells WebMD. There’s Mainstream, then there’s Plus, followed by the more professional, exhibition-levels, A-1 and A-2. McKinley is a Plus-level square dancer.

“It’s very easy once you learn,” he says. “Years ago, I was getting a divorce and didn’t want to be a bump on a barstool.” That’s when he went to his first dance and got hooked.

“It’s just so much fun. Square dancing is setting friendship to music,” he says. “It’s having a place to get up and go in the evening where you can work up a good tired and a good sweat.”

‘If You Can Walk, You Can Square Dance’

McKinley knows what he’s talking about. Square dancing contributes to a more healthy and independent lifestyle, says Lewis Maharam, MD, a sports medicine specialist in New York City and president of the Greater New York Regional Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine.

“Anything that keeps you active will keep you healthier and feeling younger. In most cases if you can walk, you can square dance, but it’s good advice to talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen,” says Maharam, also medical director of the Suzuki Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon® in San Diego, the Country Music Marathonâ¢, and the New York City Marathon.



‘If You Can Walk, You Can Square Dance’ continued…

“Any weight-bearing exercise, including square dancing, is a major benefit as one ages,” he says. Weight-bearing exercise improves bone health and thus may help stave off the brittle-bone disease osteoporosis.

“Square dancing also helps you with the feeling of where you are in space and with coordination, and this may reduce falls and chances for fractures,” says Maharam. “Regular square dancing may boost endurance, and being able to tolerate longer bouts of moving faster may result in improved cardiac function as the heart, a muscle, can become more efficient if trained. Square dancing can be considered a type of cross training, which helps to offset the muscle loss and strength loss typically associated with normal aging.”

A Social Form of Exercise

The physical benefits of square dancing are impressive, to be sure, but don’t discount the social payoff, says Jerry Reed of Coca, Fla.

“The primary benefit [of square dancing] is the social interaction between people,” says Reed, executive director of CALLERLAB, the international association of square-dance callers, with 2,000 members worldwide.

“Most of the activities that people do these days are individual, such as golfing, tennis, and bowling,” he says. “Square dancing is kind of unique in that it involves touching hands — we turn, we swing, and that seems to bring us closer together.”

And the touching in itself can be beneficial to health, according to studies conducted at the Touch Research Institute in Miami, which showed that regular touching can reduce stress and depression and enhance immune system function.

What to Expect

“A typical evening is about two hours long and in that time we dance six ‘tips,’ ” Reed says.

A tip includes a “hash calling” — where the caller calls out some moves, which the dancers execute in smooth, choreographed routines — and a “singing call,” which can include all types of square-dance moves timed to fit popular songs. On any given evening, dancers will twirl across the floor to the music of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Road,” the Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive,” Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money,” as well as songs by the Beatles and Elvis Presley.

Reed calls about four dances a week. Today’s square dancing is hipper than what most people see in movies, he says, and more therapeutic than you might think.

“It takes your mind off of the day-to-day problems,” he says. “All those other worries and thoughts disappear when you are dancing.”

Ready to Sashay Your Way to Fitness?

You say you’re tempted, but not sure if you’ve got what it takes? Don’t underestimate yourself, says Reed.

“Square dancing is not as complex as it looks, he says. “We just learn one move at a time and go from there.”

So what’s stopping you from joining in all the fun? Square dance clubs are popping up all across the world, and they want you. Ask at your local community center or check your local Yellow Pages for information on square dancing clubs and events in your neighborhood.