Line dance group helps members cope and beat adversity

Monday, December 11, 2006
Mary Ann Thompson, 82, of Independence, Mo., expressed her joy as the Fairmount Dancing Queens finished a line dance during their weekly practice session at Fairmount Community Center in Independence. The Fairmount Dancing Queens, women from their late 40s to their mid-80s, perform at nearly any venue open to them and practice Tuesdays at a line dancing class led by Thomasena Skaggs. (PAUL BEAVER ~ The Examiner)

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- Mary Ann Thompson, 82, believes she has to dance.

The Independence woman says, "every time I hear music I gotta move."

She is one of about 30 women kicking up their heels line dancing at Fairmount Community Center in Independence most Tuesday mornings. This group, the Fairmount Dancing Queens, will travel almost anywhere to perform.

The Fairmount Dancing Queens, women from their late 40s to their mid-80s, perform at nearly any venue open to them and practice at a line dancing class led by Thomasena Skaggs.

They perform at Santa-Cali-Gon Days and Englewood's Mystic Pumpkin Festival. They have gone to nursing homes, veterans halls and even on stage in Branson. They dream about performing at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

The Fairmount Dancing Queens performed at the Independence, Mo., Englewood Business District Mystic Pumpkin Festival Oct. 29.

Most of them are at the class because it is fun, but as they individually reflect on that time, they believe it is also necessary for them.

Thompson uses a list of words to describe the atmosphere of the Dancing Queens and the class.

She says it is "friendly, warm, supportive and close.

"They are the things that make you feel like they [the group members] are family. They reach out to you and make you feel like you want to come back," Thompson says.

Many in the group are widows, who find themselves alone now, or have been affected by health and mobility problems. They have discovered the value of the group for themselves.

Fran Daniels, director of the Fairmount Community Center, has watched them for five or six years at the center.

"These people have made genuine friends. Through the group, they are able to renew their sense of self and become, again, a participant of life and not just an observer," Daniels says. "It helps them be able to socialize and not be isolated in their homes. These people feel better because they are active and involved."

Thompson retired in 1985, and with her children, Joyce and David, gone from the home, she had been looking for things to do.

For a while she volunteered in the kitchen at the Salvation Army. She went to the Sermon Center kitchen.

When Thompson retired, she was director of Hospital Education Services, teaching students a variety of health occupations in the metro area.

As a registered nurse, Thompson went back to school and got her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Missouri.

She got a Masters in Education from the University of Kansas.

After graduation she worked the 3 to 11 p.m. shift in pediatric nursing at what is now Independence Regional Health Center so that she or her husband, Nyal, could be home with their children.

Ten years after she retired, on Memorial Day 1995, Nyal died.

Three years ago this month Thompson had a cancerous breast removed. She went through chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

She was told that she would likely loose her hair, but she did not.

After the diagnosis Thompson and her daughter went out and bought a wig.

"The only time I had that wig on was the day I bought it," she said.

She remembers the Dancing Queens' support during that time.

"I could not have found a better place where I felt ... you have a group to rely on and give you friendship," she says.

Thompson said during her treatments, her doctor was impressed by her attitude and asked if she would counsel others with that diagnosis.

"When I learned I had cancer I thought, 'just let go and let God,'" she said. "I've just been blessed."

As others in her life help her, she will reach out to friends at the center if they express a need.

"That is true of a lot of us there," she said. "They want to know how you are doing and they reach out to you."

She was taking care of others' needs and needed something to relieve her stress.

"This place has given me that. I never met a place that was so open and caring," she said. "There is love there. There is a lot of laughter there."

Rue Ann Stark started coming to the center about four years ago for fellowship.

"I was left alone," she said when her husband Albert died in January, 2001. "I did not want to sit at home all by myself. That is depressing. I came here to vote and saw them dancing. I thought, 'I can do that."'

Watching them from her office Daniels said, "these people are no where near rocking chair ready."

So, the women agree that the Fairmount Dancing Queens are great exercise, and good supportive friendships but several mentioned that there is one thing missing.

"We cannot get any men to come and stay long," Skaggs said. "They are welcome, but I think we scare them off."

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