ABILENE Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – An Abilene man is finding joy teaching his signature dance move at the Rose Park Senior Activity Center.
Soon-to-be 73-year-old Terry McNeil wasn’t always a dancer. For most of his life he worked at a flour mill in Topeka, Kansas.
After retirement, McNeil wanted to stay active, so he went back to his first love: baseball.
“They didn’t have an old-man team here in Abilene, so I had to play with the Titans, 40-year-old guys,” said McNeil
But after seeing many of his teammates take some hard hits, he decided it was time for a change.
“Three of them got their teeth knocked out because they’re knocking it 400 feet out of the park. Just a matter of time and I’m going to take one myself. So I gave it up and took up dancing. I’ve been doing it ever since. Much safer,” McNeil says.
It wasn’t long before McNeil had developed a trademark dance: a classic country move he calls the “Sweetheart Shine.”
“I’ve been to rock concerts, they wanna learn it. They say, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing, can we follow you around the floor?’ If I hear the right music, I do it,” McNeil said.
Now he spends his hours teaching the waltz, the two step, and even the shine at the Rose Park Senior Activity Center on Wednesdays and the YMCA on Thursdays.
“Some say ‘I have two left feet and I can’t dance,’ I tell them, ‘Five minutes and I will have you dancing,’ and they cant believe it,” McNeil remarked.
Lilia Delgado is one of McNeil’s students. She came to Texas from Venezuela, where she says the Latin music ran in her veins.
“So happy, so good, so nice, so sweet, so I want to learn to dance this music, too,” says Delgado.
Likewise, Jun Tong was a ballerina in China before moving to the U.S eight years ago. While she loves the structure and beauty of ballet, she cant resist the call of a Texas cowbell.
“I’ve been here in the United states for eight years. I love classical dance, but when I came to Texas, I love the Texas dance! So I fell in love with Texas again,” says Tong.
Tong spends 40-50 hours a week teaching Mandarin to her many students online. She says dancing at the Rose Park Senior Center is her only time to relax.
“I love that feeling like you can do whatever you want to do. Very free, you don’t have to control yourself. That’s why I love Texas dance,” Tong said.
It’s the joy and freedom that dance gives to these seniors that keeps McNeil coming back each week.
“It feels good. It just makes me feel like I’m not wasting my time and I just see that smile they give me. They come up and hug me and shake hands or whatever, and that really makes it worth my time,” McNeil says.
His grandfather was also an active dancer until his passing at the age of 98. McNeil says he plans to do the Sweetheart Shine until his body wont let him.
“I’m going to keep on doing what I’m doing because it makes people happy and that’s what I like,” said McNeil.
He and the other seniors are getting ready for the Rose Park Senior Talent show, coming up on the Aug. 21. Tryouts are Friday, July 23 at the center.