Stepping Back in Time: Hallmark Seniors Dance to Big Band Tunes

Sy Amkraut and Bernette Rudolph share a dance and a kiss. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Sep. 03, 2013

If you want to get up and dance,” Michael Thurber said before striking up the band at the Hallmark, Battery Park City’s senior residence, “Believe me, we’re not going to stop you.”

And so they did.

Ever so gently, many of them abandoned walkers to take to the floor of the Hallmark lounge, transformed that recent evening into a 1940s-style nightclub. They twirled, shimmied and elegantly strutted their stuff to the foot-tapping medley of Big Band tunes played flawlessly by a 14-piece orchestra.

“I cannot walk, but I can dance,” 87-year-old Anita Inglese said, shaking her head. “Isn’t that amazing? It makes me feel alive.”

Edyth Eisenberg, who once took dancing lessons from Gene Kelly, did a modified lindy hop with her daughter, Jana Robbins, who was visiting.

“I enjoyed every minute of it,” said Eisenberg afterwards, still smiling. “And I danced like I haven’t danced in a long time.”

The band—brought together by the music collective CDZA—came to the Hallmark at the invitation of Whitney Bryant, director of Lifestyle Programs.
(Proceeds from the event went to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.) Bryant, who leads a weekly dance program for Hallmark residents—many of whom are in their 80s and 90s—is an ardent believer that dancing can lift the spirits of older people, especially if they are in pain or depressed.

“Dance is such a great way to forget,” she said. “You release everything and just let go. Sometimes I have to say, ‘Come on, come on, I know you want to dance.’ And then once you get them up, you can’t get them off the floor!”

Ann Kessler danced with John Glandon, Bryant’s husband, who along with Pedro Seda, a server in the Hallmark’s dining room, danced tirelessly through the evening with the female residents, most of whom did
not have partners.

“It was a pleasure,” Kessler said. “I loved it!”

Milly Cohn also danced, albeit differently from a half century or more ago. “When we were teenagers,” Cohn recalled, “there was the jitterbug and a lot of
jumping around. You have to do a lot less jumping now—you might try, but it doesn’t work.”

Jonathan Carroll, Hallmark’s executive director, marveled at the joyous transformation of so many of the residents.

“They looked young again!” he exclaimed.

See video