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No young 'uns allowed: Senior dancers get their kicks performing as New York Pacemakers

2019-08-25

Members of The Pacemakers, made up of dancers 50 years and older (Luiz C. Ribeiro/for New York Daily News)

They’re a senior dance squad with a forever-young beat.

The New York Pacemakers, a company of 17 dancers aged 55-80 that performed their first gig last month have been practicing some heart-racing moves in preparation for their next show Sunday during the Brooklyn Cyclones game at Coney Island.

At a midtown dance studio this week, 12 of the dancers clad in costumes resembling uniforms — with their shirt numbers proudly declaring their birth year — rehearsed with the “Bad Boys” theme from the television show “Cops” blaring at a frenetic beat, followed by “Walk This Way” by Run DMC and Aerosmith.

A grey-haired man gyrates his hips, hands above his head while a woman drops to the ground in a breakdancing move, freezing in a pose, a move 21-year-old choreographer Maya Bayliss concedes is even beyond her skills set.

New York - AUGUST 4, 2019 - Members of The Pacemakers, New York's newest senior dance team made up of residents 50 years and older from across the five boroughs as well as neighboring states, rehearse in Midtown Manhattan Sunday morning. The love of dance brought them together from all walks of life. Some members are college professors, a former Rockette and a former New York Times journalist?and founder Susan Avery. The Pacemakers performs at MCU Park during the Brooklyn Cyclones' game. (Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Daily News)
New York - AUGUST 4, 2019 - Members of The Pacemakers, New York's newest senior dance team made up of residents 50 years and older from across the five boroughs as well as neighboring states, rehearse in Midtown Manhattan Sunday morning. The love of dance brought them together from all walks of life. Some members are college professors, a former Rockette and a former New York Times journalist?and founder Susan Avery. The Pacemakers performs at MCU Park during the Brooklyn Cyclones' game. (Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Daily News) (Luiz C. Ribeiro/for New York Daily News)

“I just think your split is so great, and you’re the only one who can do it,” gushed former New York magazine reporter Susan Avery, 59, to Mela Stevens, 56.

It’s high praise from a former journalist who followed a dream at a time in her life when most people are thinking about retirement.

“I always wanted to be a professional dancer,” Avery told the Daily News. “It’s just one of those things. It brings joy to my heart.”

Avery said that while working at the magazine in the late 1990s, she covered a New York Liberty game and was so in awe of an older dance team that stepped out on the court that she auditioned and won a spot in the “Timeless Torches” troupe.

Susan Avery of The Pacemakers.
Susan Avery of The Pacemakers. (Luiz C. Ribeiro/for New York Daily News)

“I couldn’t believe at the age of whatever I was, I was in my forties — that I was now a person who was paid to dance at Madison Square Garden," she said.

Then in 2017, Avery joined the “Surf Squad,” a multi-generational dance troupe that performed during Cyclones games. Though the Mets’ Class A affiliate recently switched to younger dancers, Avery said she convinced the front office to make room for a senior squad.

Placing ads in Playbill and Backstage, Avery held auditions for the Pacemakers in April. The chosen performers — boasting over 1,000 years of life between them — include current and former teachers, a telephone operator, a Rockette, a psychotherapist, journalists, actors, a stock analyst, Macy’s Christmas elves and a Vietnam veteran.

Another of the troupe’s choreographers, Heather Van Arsdel, 45, is the former captain of the Knicks’ “City Dancers” and “Timeless Torches.”

Avery said the Pacemakers purposely play up their age for laughs, opening their performances by shuffling into the spotlight wearing shawls, while one leans on a cane and another pushes along with a walker. “We’re proud of our age,” she said.

Members of The Pacemakers, made up of dancers 50 years and older, rehearse in midtown Manhattan on August 4, 2019.
Members of The Pacemakers, made up of dancers 50 years and older, rehearse in midtown Manhattan on August 4, 2019. (Luiz C. Ribeiro/for New York Daily News)

“I had a full hip replacement two years ago,” Barbara Adler, 58, told The News. "I was back in the dance studio four months later.”

Gloria Schnure, 63, piped in that “I was just in ‘Mamma Mia’ and this one young kid goes ‘Oh my God, the energy you have’. I mean, this is a young 15-year-old. Even they look at it and say ‘wow.’”

After all the energy the dancers spent during a two-hour rehearsal, there was still plenty left over to laugh and mug for social media pictures.

“Who says old people can’t do selfies?” asked Adler.