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He Two-Steps His Way to Recovery From a Stroke : More than returning to health, Tony Bones found the fountain of youth when he took up country-Western dancing.


He doesn't smoke or drink. He doesn't rope or ride. But at 74, Tony Bones can out-Boot-Scoot-Boogie most teen-agers. Only one piece of advice about Bones, however: Never get between him and a Walkin' Wazi. If you do, despite dance floor etiquette, you may become a speed bump.

Bones wasn't always so light on his feet. Nine years ago, a stroke left the retired boilermaker unable to walk, talk or drive for months.

After a slow and painful recovery, Bones of Thousand Oaks took a class at the local senior center a year and a half ago. He started out the way many people inching their way back into health do.

"We learned a real slow line dance," he recalled. But it was too tame for him. So 10 months ago he headed for the clubs, where he met dance instructors Cliff and T. Kimberly Cox.

"When we first saw him, he was learning "Achy Breaky,' an intermediate line dance," said T. Kimberly Cox. "We were both impressed. He stays with it until he learns a dance."

Cliff Cox remembered Bones telling him he had a stroke a few years before. And while he's no doctor, Cox thought his choice of therapy was a good one. "Country dancing was probably the best thing that he could have found," he said.

Bones obviously agrees. "I feel as young as at 17," Bones said. "Now I think I'm better than I was."

So what's a dancer like Bones doing not teaching his new-found fountain-of-youth tricks to others? Bones said he'd like to be an instructor, but the removal of a cyst from his vocal chords a few years ago has made it too difficult for him to speak for long periods.

But no matter. Bones did what's probably the next-best thing: He serves as a partner--with plenty of know-how to pass on to anyone who is interested. You'll find him most nights at the Crazy Bull or Cinnamon's West in Camarillo, where he's still going for dance lessons.

"Tony looks out for the people just learning to dance," said Rob Weber, owner of Cinnamon's West restaurant. "He makes them feel comfortable and not afraid to try."

Bones also enjoys socializing, but he's really there for the exercise. And he usually comes alone. "I like to arrive 15 minutes before a lesson to warm up," he said. "I have my own lady, but she don't do any line dancing. And just to sit and watch me is not fun. So even before I get up a sweat, she's ready to go home.

"I can lose three to four pounds in one night," he added.

Besides keeping off the 10 pounds he has lost through dancing, Bones wants to follow his doctor's advice to maintain his circulation.

"I never sit," he said. "Even when the band takes breaks, I dance to the tapes. Then, after about two or three hours, I put my coat on and go home so I don't catch a chill."

His casual, hands-in-pocket stance belies the pride he takes in mastering difficult line dances such as Diablo. "It takes about one and a half hours for everyone to pick it up. It's very difficult because it's fast. You have to stomp with the opposite foot. And the turns are not a normal pivot," he explained.

Despite his enthusiasm for such things as grapevine moves, step-ball-changes and Charleston kicks, Bones prefers the Cowboy Cha Cha. "In general, I like couple-dancing better," he said. "And I help encourage others--especially the younger ones--to learn them."

He also enjoys dances that involve a bit more contact. "The two-step and waltz are nicer because you're touching," he said with a smile. "Some of the young girls--19 or 20--say they don't know how to two-step. I tell them, 'Come on and try. Then these young guys will see you dancing and they'll ask you to dance.' "

In the case of an even younger dancer, 11-year-old Alanna Adams, Bones' tutelage has allowed her to teach others what she's learned. "I come with my mom to dance," she said at Cinnamon's West. "Tony's really nice. He taught me how to two-step. And he teaches me a lot of line dances like the Electric Slide. It helps me when I practice with him. So when I go out with my friends I can teach them how to dance."

"I'm just one of the kids, as far as I'm concerned," said Bones after a Waltz Across Texas with Adams. "I'll dance as long as I can.

"I know some of them wouldn't like it if I died on the dance floor," he said with a chuckle. "But I'd be happy to go that way."


Free and low-cost country dance lessons are offered through programs at many senior citizen centers, recreation and parks districts, community colleges, and adult and continuing education centers. You also can take advantage of free dance lessons held nearly every night at several establishments in the area. It's usually possible to avoid paying a cover charge of $3-$5 per person by arriving early for the lesson or by ordering dinner. To locate country dance venues or events in the county, call (805) 642-8595.

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