As "Blue Hawaii" pours from the boom box on the senior center's stage, Grace Griffin begins her senior hula class by telling her students, "Hang loose, everyone hangs loose in Hawaii."
Griffin, a graceful 82-year-old who says her weight today is the same as it was when she was 18, has been teaching the hula for more than 20 years. She says the dance is great exercise for seniors because it gently uses the entire body -- hands, arms, wrists, legs and hips. Any senior can participate regardless of their physical condition, Griffin says. "They move whatever they can move."
New students can join the weekly class in Silver Spring anytime. They learn to tell stories with their hands while moving their bodies to songs such as "If You Want to Dance the Hula," "Aloha Sweetheart" and even Andy Williams's "White Christmas."
More-seasoned students like Louise Stuhler, who once owned a dance studio, get their turn in the spotlight dancing the Alekoki, a folk dance where the dancers enhance the rhythm by hitting together split bamboo sticks called puilis.
Throughout the class, Griffin tells students about the dance, teaches them Hawaiian words and lets them know which movements are good for particular ailments. Griffin says hula is not only good exercise, but "it's fun and it gets your mind off your troubles."
Beginning Hula meets every Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Margaret Schweinhaut Senior Center, 1000 Forest Glen Rd., Silver Spring. To learn more, call 301-681-1255.
-- Diane Knich