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story.lead_photo.caption (India Garrish/News Tribune) Tom Cwynar, instructor for Show Me Boot Scooters, shows Sheryl Jaegers, left, and Carl Berndt the hand hold for a turn in their Sept. 27 class. On Monday, around 14 dancers learned West Coast Swing style.

Hand in hand, Mike and Kathy Thienes take to the wooden dance floor. As soft pop music plays through the speaker, he gently pushes Kathy away from him — their feet effortlessly moving like they're floating above the floor — hips twisting, hands clasped, eyes glued on one another.

"One, two, three and four, five and six," the instructor sings the cues over a mic'd headset.

Mike pulls Kathy toward him, her metallic shoes shimmer with help from the mirrors and chandelier overhead as she spins inward. They switch hands without hesitation, and she glides back out.

They've done this before.

———

The pair were among a few dozen members present at last Monday's Show-Me Boot Scooters lesson at the Capital Ritz Dance Center. Members come different backgrounds and even different cities, but side by side on the dance floor, they form a community.

The Boot Scooters group organized in 1992 and currently boasts more than 100 members from across Mid-Missouri who come together for weekly dance lessons in country Western styles like the two step, pattern partner or line dance as well as other popular styles including the waltz or West Coast Swing, which is what the Thieneses were practicing.

Boot Scooters also offers quarterly open dances that allow for multiple styles to be done on the dance floor at the same time.

Dancing for Mike and Kathy Thienes started as a way to keep busy once the last of their children left home. They were living in Oregon at the time, and a neighbor approached them and asked about their hobbies. With no more soccer practices to attend, they didn't have a good answer. So they joined a dance class. And they fell in love.

"It keeps us active and social, and it opens the door to so many musical activities," Mike said. "It's also important for us as a couple to have something we do together, to bond."

"And it's just so fun," Kathy chimed in.

So for the last 20 or so years, the couple has been fine-tuning their ballroom and swing dancing skills. After recently moving to Columbia, though, they were desperate to find ways to keep moving together.

That's when they discovered the Boot Scooters.

Last week was only their second Boot Scooters class, but they were already a part of the group, chatting at a table with other members before the lesson began.

For Carl Berndt, also of Columbia, the Boot Scooters gave him a place to shake the pandemic blues — kind of literally.

"COVID sent me home (to work), and I do a pretty quiet job so it was just me and my dog so when I finally was able to start dancing, it was like 'thank God for real people.'"

While Berndt and the Thieneses may be newbies to the club, Bob Hopkins has been boot scootin' since nearly the beginning.

Hopkins joined the group in 1995 with his wife, who has since passed away.

While he sits out the partner dances these days, Hopkins, 85, has a dance background 75 years strong. He took tap dance lessons as a child, and his mom taught him the jitterbug during his high school days in Iowa, where he remembers sock hops after sporting events where the boy-girl dancing ratio was in his favor.

"I had all the partners I wanted as long as I could keep moving," he said, garnering chuckles from his long-time friends and fellow Boot Scooter members Terry and Edi Lambert.

The Hopkinses and the Lamberts met decades ago at a dance, and the Hopkinses encouraged them to join the Boot Scooters in the late 1990s.

For them, the socialization and good friendships they've made during their time dancing is a big part of the appeal, but the health benefits can't be overlooked.

The physical exercise someone gets from such movement is obvious, but dancing is more than that.

"It keeps you moving, but it also requires counting and following music, and there's communication involved if dancing with a partner," Mike Thienes said. "There's a lot to learn so it keeps your mind engaged."

A New England Journal of Medicine study echoed that idea.

The study sought to discover if physical activities can benefit mental acuity; they did this by monitoring rates of dementia in senior citizens over a 21-year period.

While none of the other physical activities — golf, walking, biking, swimming — seemed to have much impact on the risk of dementia, there was one important exception: dance.

Dancing frequently, according to the study, led to a 76 percent reduced risk of developing dementia.

With so many benefits, Boot Scooter Secretary Donna Linnenbrink said dancing is truly for everyone.

"The great thing about dancing is there are no socio-economic diversions. I've danced with people from all walks of life. And they're all happy; that's a big part of it," she said.

No partner? No worries. Some styles don't require a partner, and single attendees often meet at a lesson and partner up.

Linnenbrink's husband, for example, is not the biggest dancing fan, but she's made several friends throughout her 14 years as a Boot Scooter and now teaches and partners with fellow club officer Terry Schnieders.

No experience? That's not a deal-breaker either.

Karen Hoellering noted it can be a little intimidating at first when you're learning "dance floor etiquette" — the outside of the circle is reserved for faster, progressive dances like the foxtrot or a waltz, moving counter clockwise; the inside lane, traveling the same direction, is for slower dancing; and the center is reserved for spot dances, ones that don't travel, like the cha cha, jitterbug or West Coast Swing.

"I was two left feet at first and didn't want to come back, but I've never been a quitter so I decided I'd learn first then quit. But once I knew what to do, I didn't want to quit. It's just so much fun," Hoellering said, adding dancing brings her so much joy, she wishes she started sooner.

Much like a good partner, dancing and happiness seem to go hand in hand for the Boot Scooters.

"It's such a stress reliever; the head and feet have to communicate, and you just dance the day away," Linnenbrink said. "It brings joy. The music is in me — I'm in the car dancing, or at the copier, some part of me is always moving."

Want to know more about the Show-Me Boot Scooters?

The club meets from 7-9 p.m. Mondays at Capital Ritz, 2716 Plaza Drive. The instructor-led sessions typically include a few different dance styles broken into different segments: partner dance (like West Coast Swing or the waltz), pattern partner and line dance. Attendees can dance all evening or pick and choose their favorites.

New members are always welcome; an annual membership is $12. The weekly lessons are $2 for members and $4 for non-members. Cowboy boots not a pre-requisite.

No classes are held during December.

Open dances are held quarterly. The next open dance is Monday; it starts with a picnic at 6 p.m. at the Riverside Park pavilion, 300 Ellis Porter Drive, followed by open dancing until 9 p.m. for $4.

Visit the Show-Me Boot Scooters Facebook page for more information.

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