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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Dancing like they’ve never danced before: North Star Senior Center’s new venue busier than ever

During a North Star Senior Center dance, Josie Guevarra and Harley Latting dance to music from the band After Dark on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019. The self-funded center, which holds weekly dances, moved in July  to the basement of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Hillyard. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

The North Star Senior Center has a new location for its weekly dances after more than 40 years, and the dances are busier than ever.

“We’ve got a couple people who are 99 and dancing,” said North Star treasurer Bobbie Small. “We’ve got people here who are much younger. Everybody gets along. It’s a great group.”

The group previously met at Country Homes Christian Church but the rent got too high, Small said. The seniors have been having their dances from 1 to 3 p.m. every Tuesday in the basement of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church at the corner of Regal Street and Wellesley Avenue since July 1.

“Since then we’ve increased our membership,” Small said. “I don’t know why. We’re serving lunch now, which we didn’t do before, so maybe that’s part of it.”

North Star Director Dick Baker said he’s also been making an effort to collaborate with other senior centers to publicize each other’s dances. He plays in the After Dark band, which performs at North Star once a month, and the band also plays at other senior centers. When he’s playing with the band he hands out buy-one-get-one-free admission tickets to North Star’s dances, and he’s seen quite a few get redeemed.

Many North Star members go dancing in other locations, including other senior centers, several times a week so the collaboration made sense, Small said. “We’re trying to get them to come here on Tuesdays,” she said.

The lack of a building to call its own isn’t the only thing that sets North Star apart. “We’re the only independent senior center in town,” Baker said. “Everyone else is funded by the Parks Department.”

The members provide all the funding to run the senior center. The annual dues are $10, and the weekly dance is $5 per person. Lunch is $3, but it’s optional. There’s always coffee and donuts for those who don’t buy lunch. The senior center also gets day-old pastries that are offered to members for a small donation.

The weekly dances are the only thing North Star offers, Small said. “This group of people don’t want game nights or movie days,” Small said. “They want to come here and dance and then go home. That’s it.”

Community Inclusion Specialist Marsha Stoeser said she often brings her disabled clients to the North Star dances. She brought one client for weeks before the senior center members were able to convince him to join them on the dance floor. “They’ve been so accepting,” she said.

Baker said dancing can be extremely important for seniors. He may be playing in the band instead of dancing, but he keeps active by speed walking competitively and has participated in every Bloomsday since it began.

“It keeps you young,” he said. “You’ve got to have that exercise. If you don’t exercise, you lose it.”

Small has been a North Star member for 18 years and the treasurer for 15. She said it’s the people who keep her coming back. “I love to dance and I love music, so it’s a natural for me,” she said. “What I like about this group is that the guys make sure everyone dances. That’s our goal, is for everybody to be happy.”

Baker has been North Star’s director for 18 years. “I answered an ad in the paper,” he said. “They were looking for a part-time director.”

At the time Baker was the track and cross country coach at North Central High School and the part-time gig fit in with his schedule. He thought it would be a short-term position but he’s stuck around.

“I like the people,” he said. “The people are why we stay with it. You can make a lot of friends.”