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Seniors Step To The Beat In Arab

Judy Cundiff

Meet Judy Cundiff. At age 70, she was bored being at home by herself. She was dependent on a wheelchair and didn’t have a way to go anywhere, even though she wanted to.

Then she found out the Arab Senior Center could help.

Transportation is a game-changer

“I had been wanting to come to the Senior Center for a while,” she recalled, adding that having a bus to transport her back and forth changed everything. In the year since she’s been coming, a lot has changed for Judy.

“I’ve made new friends, I’ve learned a lot of different games and I enjoy it,” Judy said after trying Bunko for the first time in March. “I love it.”

But that’s not all that’s changed for her. Judy underwent surgery in early March, and she no longer needs a wheelchair.

“I’m just now back to the center this week,” she said. “Walking!”

One thing she’s looking forward to trying when she’s completely healed is the center’s Line Dancing Class.

Maggie Thrower, manager of the Arab Senior Center, said line dancing is one of the center’s most popular classes.  Participants drive from Guntersville and nearby Morgan County to take advantage of the class, offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Helen Hawkins, front, is one of the oldest participants in the Line Dancing Class at the Arab Senior Center.

Line Dancing

At 89, Helen Hawkins is one of the oldest participants in the line dancing class, skillfully led by Patra Bowman, 70, who uses a variety of music and dance routines to keep the class interesting.

“We started the class with four people when we came back after Covid,” she said. “Word has gotten out it’s a good, fun class because we always have a good crowd.”

The two-hour class is broken up into four sessions:

  • Absolute Beginner
  • Beginner
  • Improver
  • Intermediate Level
Line Dancing at the Arab Senior Center

Helen has been line dancing for at least 20 years and showed no signs of slowing down as she moved in perfect time with tunes from Michael Jackson, George Strait and Shawn Mendes to name a few.

“I like to dance, and I love all music,” Helen said. “I’ll dance to it all.”

Through the years, Helen said the class members have done performances at assisted living centers in Huntsville, Scottsboro and the Shoals area. They’ve gone to Mobile, Montgomery and even Pigeon Forge for performances and workshops, she added.

“And we dance on the streets of Arab at the Poke Salat Festival,” she added. The festival is set for next month on Saturday, May 18.

Helen said at her age, she tries to keep moving and she comes to the Senior Center every day.

“A lot of people come to play games and they really seem to enjoy it,” Helen said. “I don’t do that, but I will sit and color and visit and talk with others on the days we don’t line dance.”

Staying active

Dianne Gilliland, 66, of Guntersville, has been driving to Arab for several months for the line dancing class to keep mentally and physically fit.

“I love it,” she said. “It’s a great exercise program.”

Mike and Brenda Thorn are learning to line dance at the Arab Senior Center

Mike Thorn, 60, was one of a few men participating in the beginner part of the class.

“I’m taking one for the team,” he laughed. He and his wife Brenda, 58, moved from Madison to Arab last year. Mike retired in January and the couple decided to check out the Senior Center with her visiting as his guest.

Brenda recalls the first day they showed up for the line dancing class, thinking it was going to be easy for them because they’re younger.

“They told us to ‘get ready’ and I thought, yeah, right, it’s just line dancing – how hard can it be?  But that first day, halfway through the first song Mike told me his thighs were hurting and I told him mine were too,” she said with a laugh. “The 90-year-olds were making us look bad. I thought they broke us the way we hurt afterwards.”

Worth the drive

Betsy Spencer, 67, drives to the center from Ryan Crossroads in nearby Morgan County for the past year.

“It’s great for companionship, exercise and we have fun,” she added.

Susu Watkins, 67, also from Guntersville, has been making the drive over to Arab since last November for the line dancing class.

“It’s fun and it’s just a great environment to be in because you don’t have to be perfect while you’re learning,” Susu said. “And you really have to get your mind together to do it, so it helps you with your mind too.”

Michele Hill, front, is back on the dance floor at the Arab Senior Center following surgery.

Longtime Senior Center participant Michele Hill, 77, is just returning after a two-year hiatus for hip and knee replacement surgeries, but she couldn’t wait to back out there.

“I’m starting to feel good again, but I’ve been out for a long time,” Michele said, while taking a break. “Time flies, but I’ve been dancing easily over 10 years and glad to be back.”

Dance floor versus swimming pool

Amanda Hollrah, 84, who lives just outside of Arab, started going to the Senior Center in 2011. It was about a year after her husband died.

“I had to do something to get out of the house and I tried swimming. I enjoyed it but when I would leave there, I’d be wet, my hair would be wet, and I was cold and then I’d stay cold, and I was like why I am I doing this?” she remembered thinking. “So, this a good option.”


Arab Senior Center entrance

About the center

Located in Marshall County, Arab is nestled on top of Brindlee Mountain. More than 8,600 residents live in Arab, with 16.6 percent of those being age 65 or older.

The Arab Senior Center is a 17,000-square-foot multi-purpose facility that provides a safe and enjoyable setting for those 60 and older. Maggie said the center provides plenty of space to fellowship for visitors to various activities and share experiences with new friends.

The center also serves the greater community during severe weather. Maggie said it is also designated as a safe place for anyone in the community, regardless of age, if the National Weather Service issues a Tornado Watch, and the weather becomes active. But no pets or firearms are allowed inside the building.

Hot meals and more

While line dancing is a big draw for the center, it offers much more for seniors.

The center serves hot meals to about 25 participants daily and provides meals for 18 who are homebound, Maggie said. Even more stop in to play billiards, card or board games, exercise in the gym, and enjoy the library and reading room, arts and crafts, or computer room.

Maggie said each morning there are planned activities designed to get the center’s participants moving and keep them active.

For participant members ages 60 and up who are unable to drive, bus transportation is provided to and from the center, but on request, once a week the bus will also take them for groceries, household items, and doctors’ appointments.

Arab Senior Center Manager Maggie Thrower

“This is not just a job to me, they are my friends,” said Maggie who has been at the center for 11 years as manager and assistant manager.

“This one, she does a great job,” said Amanda Hollrah, a longtime center participant. “All the people she’s brought in and they keep coming because it’s very welcoming and we just all have a good time here.”