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Chilling on the Dance Floor, Seniors Sizzle

At an air-conditioned Long Beach center, some older residents refuse to let the heat disrupt the rhythm of their life, courtesy of a big band.

July 27, 2006|Nancy Wride | Times Staff Writer

The Tabu and Emeraude perfume wafted perhaps more strongly in the heat. But Wednesday's draining humidity dissuaded none of the 150 dancers swinging to a live big band at El Dorado Park Senior Center, one of two cooling centers Long Beach opened as a respite from the enduring high temperatures.

Though a few households in Long Beach were still without electricity, Southern California Edison said that it expected to restore power to the last of its customers known to be affected by outages there by late Wednesday.

Tuesday night, when as many as 350 customers were without power, only two people took advantage of the large senior center's cooling station. Yet Wednesday, its dance floor was filled as a sea of pastel twirly skirts, cabana-wear and wool suits glided across the air-conditioned room as the 17-piece band performed -- without irony -- such tunes as "Sunny Side of the Street" at the twice-weekly soiree.

As a conga line formed in the chilly room, temperatures outside soared above 90 and the humidity level reached 42% at 1 p.m.

Juanita White, 69, of Long Beach said she didn't need her home air conditioner but cranked it up for her aging 2-pound teacup poodle, Susie.

Jean Paul, 69, of Mission Viejo had not even flipped on her air conditioner. "I'm saving electricity for others. I'm from Chicago. You guys don't know anything about humidity here."

Evelyne Broitman, 81, who lives about a mile from the center, came Wednesday wearing a gray silk jumpsuit with a silver sequined stretch belt. She said she has attended the weekly dances -- always packed with 100 or more people -- for a decade, and at one time she had been in a wheelchair but recovered. The heat was not going to stop her from showing up.

"The heat's been unbearable. Here, it's great in here. My house? You could die," said Broitman, identified by many fellow seniors as one of the best dancers in the room. "I've had four strokes, a heart attack and a hip replacement.... I take my pills and I dance. You got to get out and get on with it."

By walker, wheelchair, car and cab, the 150 seniors began arriving at the spacious center for its free luncheon before the show, which is performed for free by mostly senior members of what is simply called the Wednesday Band.

Ceci Julian belts out such classics as "Summertime" and "Boogie Blues" like she is not 81. As the band's vocalist, she sang 10 songs to big applause. Center Director Terry Eggers said the octogenarian chanteuse -- who lives with her grandson in the waterfront Naples neighborhood, where she kept cool in recent days with just fans -- offered to entertain any refugees from the heat who dragged themselves into the cooling center. But few did.

During the band's break, over cookies and coffee, several dancers said they too went without air conditioning at home but found ways to stay cool. Many shrugged at the question of heat intolerance.

When they could have remained in the air-conditioned center, a quartet of men sat outside on concrete benches, gabbing away.

George Dominique, 78, of Long Beach leaned back in a brown Hawaiian shirt and shorts, called the humidity "pleasant" and offered his East Coast-versus-West Coast levity on the weather.

"I was born and raised in New York, and you talk about humidity," he said to his friends. "This isn't bad. Here on the West Coast it always cools down at night. Not on the East Coast."

Edward Kerns, 88, of Anaheim called the heat "very difficult." He said he cools down by going "to the college where they have a big pool, or I'll patronize the bigger hotels to swim." And regardless of the temperature, he said he goes dancing almost every week at senior centers.

Juan Monroy, 80, a retired cook who lives in South-Central Los Angeles, dances at a similar circuit of senior centers. He said he usually visits dances in Pico Rivera, Montebello and Monterey Park each week, favoring swing, tango and salsa.

"It's been very, very hot at my house," he said to his first-time dance partner, Joyce Hager, 70, of Anaheim, who tried to stay cool by wearing a mini-dress. She is a retired beauty college assistant who said she has spent hours on end in her backyard pool.

The heat will come, then the heat will go, she said, and that's just how it is. "You have to keep doing what you want, no matter the heat," she said after a cha-cha. "Otherwise, there is no fun. What is the point?"

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Q&A

Q: Why are elderly people more susceptible to heat-related illnesses?

A: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Elderly people do not adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature. They are more likely to have a chronic medical condition that upsets normal body responses to heat. They are more likely to take prescription medicines that impair the body's ability to regulate its temperature or that inhibit perspiration."

Q: What are some tips for avoiding heat-related illnesses?

A: Drink plenty of water but avoid caffeine and alcohol, which cause fluid loss. Drink fruit juice or sports drinks to replace salt and minerals lost through sweat. Take advantage of shade and air conditioning. Children, the elderly and pets should never be left in an enclosed vehicle, even briefly. The temperature can quickly rise to life-threatening levels even with the windows partly open.

Q: What is heatstroke?

A: The body gets so hot that the normal mechanisms for controlling temperature, such as perspiration, don't work well or fail completely. The body's temperature can rise to 106 or higher.

Q: What are the symptoms?

A: They include, but are not limited to, dizziness, hot and dry skin, high temperature, rapid pulse and headache.

Q: What is heat exhaustion?

A: The body loses vital salts and water through perspiration.

Q: What are the symptoms?

A: They include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, weakness, headache, nausea, dizziness, tiredness and paleness.

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Los Angeles Times

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