Seniors vie to save last dance

It’s a Wednesday night and 70-year-old Glenn Havens has two beautiful ladies in heels and ball gowns swaying in his arms to the music of the Waldo Carter Orchestra.

When the song ends, the plaid-shirted Havens escorts the two back to their seats and shakes his head.

“It’d be a real shame if they ended this,” he says.

But end it they may. The senior dances, which San Mateo Park and Recreation Department has hosted at its Senior Center twice a month for more than 20 years, are on the verge of being axed by the cash-strapped city.

Though the senior dance program was once able to sustain itself with the $5 admission price — for which attendees receive refreshments as well as 2½ hours of a live band — the attendance has dropped throughout the years, said Paul Council, the city’s recreation division manager.

This year, the dances have averaged 21 attendees, which is less than half of what Council says would allow the program to sustain itself. As a result, the city has been subsidizing the program about $2,500 a year, he said.

With the city’s current budget crunch, he said, the department must put its resources where they’re most valued — and that doesn’t appear to be the senior dances.

Council said the decision whether to ax the problem will be made by staff in the next few weeks.

“We think it’s reached the end of its life cycle as an activity,” he said.

But the seniors who attend certainly don’t agree.

Havens, a Portola Valley resident and a dance regular blamed the city for “really not trying” to get more people to attend.

Council said a brief marketing push in March did result in “some success” bringing the attendance in the following dances as high as 39 — but still short of the 44 attendees needed to break even.

But 62-year-old San Mateo resident and dancer Agnes Hon said there must be other ways to make the dances work. She said she’d be willing to pay a few more dollars to keep the program going.

Hon said a couple other Peninsula cities host regular senior dances, but she worried older dancers — like her dance partner Jack Lewis, who coyly gave his age as “over 70” — might feel uncomfortable driving far at night.

“I just wish we could figure out how to get a few more people here,” Lewis said.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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