BR Kunze
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Story written by Rick Archer
December 2013

Do you know what an Octogenarian is?   Taken from the Latin root 'octo' for 'eight', an Octogenarian is someone whose age is between 80-89.

This is a story about BR Kunze, an exceptional friend of mine who just turned 80 on November 24, 2013.  The only problem is that BR looks twenty years younger. 

I confess I am fascinated by this man who has seemingly sipped from the fountain of youth.  What could his secret be??

I think I know the answer - BR loves to dance.  And BR isn't the only one who seems to have benefitted from the dance lifestyle.

During my periodic visits to the Chandelier Ballroom over the past three years, I have met a group of people who are somewhat older than me, but appear to stay perpetually young through their love of dance. 

On the other hand, not everyone is so lucky to be dancing at 80.  About once a month I visit my friend Jeanne at the Treemont Retirement Community here in Houston.

This is an awkward thing to say, but each time I visit, everywhere I look there are walkers,  wheelchairs and canes in abundance.  Even the ones who can walk unassisted don't move very fast.  Watching how they struggle to move, I wondered if this facility ever has a dance.  I was afraid to ask, but I couldn't contain my curiosity. 

So I emailed Jeanne to find out.

Rick Archer with Jeanne, 80.

As you can see, Jeanne is another person who obviously
drinks from the Fountain of Youth. 

Jeanne may be 80, but she is knockout good-looking.

Rick Archer:

So, Jeanne, how much dancing do you still do? 
Do they have any dances at Treemont?


Rick, you asked if they had dances here, and the answer is yes; but almost all the men, and there are many more men than women.....are in wheel chairs or use walkers!

You would not believe the New Year's Eve dance. It was from 3 until 5! But they have a band, and my friend Jo Ann sees to it that there is plenty of champagne and good things to eat.

I saw one old man held up by his partner out on the dance floor. As they got back to his walker, he said, "We'll take dancing lessons in Heaven."

There is ONE man here who actually dances. He is 84. I danced a kind of fast dance with him once, and all he does is BOUNCE!   Personally, I would rather not dance.  I am sure you would feel the same way if all it meant was bouncing up and down and having someone work your arm like a pump handle.    

The hardest part to take is the attitude.  Since he is the ONLY man who can still dance here, it has gone to his head.  It isn't easy dancing with a partner who imagines he can lead and believes he is doing very, very well, has a huge smile, and brags about his dancing.  I'll pass. 


When I contrast the mobile people at the Chandelier with the sedentary people of Treemont, the difference is unsettling to say the least.

At any Chandelier dance party, there are always dozens of people BR's age who are out there moving around the floor.  Maybe they are the lucky ones who have been blessed by nature with good bodies and now they are just taking advantage of their good fortune.

But then I notice how skillfully they dance.  That kind of dance ability comes from years of dancing.  And that was my clue.  These people have been dancing a long time.  This makes me suspect that a lifetime of dancing could very well lead to their uncanny mobility compared to the ones who struggle over at Treemont.

I have concluded the ability to move around unassisted is not something I should take for granted.  I decided "mobility" in old age requires daily exercise well in advance.  This realization, of course, is what led to my own personal daily walking project.  

In addition, I ran across another article - Dance Smart - that made it clear the more often I danced, the sharper my wits would stay.  I don't know about you, but the thought of keeping my senses about me late in life is very appealing.  If dancing will help, I say strike up the band.

Furthermore, at the risk of embarrassing my friend BR, he never seems to lack for smiling ladies to dance with.  There is always a pretty girl on his arm.  So there you have it -  BR is graceful on the dance floor, youthful in appearance, and always in the company of pretty girls. 

If BR Kunze is an example of what a lifetime of dancing will do for me, I say count me in.  Whatever BR is drinking, save some of that for me.

And now let's read about BR's amazing 80th birthday party!

BR Kunze

On Sunday, 24 November 2013, I had the pleasure of attending Burnal "BR" Kunze's 80th Birthday Party.

BR's party was held at the Chandelier Ballroom

The Chandelier Ballroom, also known as SPJST Lodge 88, is a Czech Fraternal Lodge. Do you see the river in the background? That is a famous panorama seen in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. Here the Blue Danube passes under Charles Bridge with Prague Castle proudly looming on the cliff above.

The Chandelier Ballroom was a good choice to host a party. This spacious dance hall is run by some extremely nice people who are unfailingly polite and always ready to please. 

As you can see from this picture, BR was very worried that no one would notice him at his own party.  Consequently BR made sure no one could possibly pass him without stopping to stare.

I first met BR back in the Eighties when he came to SSQQ-Bissonnet to learn how to western dance.  I did not get to know BR on a personal basis, but I definitely knew who he was.  I was continually struck by how poised and courteous BR was at all times.

And then I lost track of him.

Fortunately, BR and I became reacquainted last year one night at the Chandelier Ballroom. 

Back when I ran the studio, I visited Chandelier perhaps three times in 30 years.  I wasn't trying to avoid the place.  The reason for my absence was simple - on a Saturday night when the Chandelier hosted their dance, I was hosting my own dance over at SSQQ.  Or on a Saturday night that I had free, the last thing I wanted to do was to go dancing for the fun of it.

However, once I sold the studio, my Saturday nights became free.  Now the charms of this lovely dance hall became apparent to me.  I absolutely love the freedom of dancing on this huge floor plus I enjoy hearing the live music of a band.

What I particularly enjoy are the large tables that seat anywhere from 10 to 20 people.  These tables are perfect for socializing.  They allow people who don't know each other very well to strike up conversations that lead to friendships.

In other words, the Chandelier Ballroom has become my favorite place to dance. 

One night last year at the Chandelier, I was walking by BR Kunze during a band break.  BR touched my arm and I hesitated.  He said, "You don't remember me, do you?"

Oh gosh, I was paralyzed with those words.  People do that to me all the time.  Unfortunately, he was correct.  This man's face seemed familiar, but that was the best I could do.  So he introduced himself.  "I am BR Kunze and you taught me how to dance at your studio!"

I began to smile.  Now I did recognize him. 

Unbeknownst to BR, I had already been watching him dance at the Chandelier.  Although at the time I didn't realize I knew him, I admired his dancing.  This guy was really good!

In fact, BR was by far one of the best dancers on the floor.  That much I did know.  Every time I passed him on the floor, I could not help but notice how graceful he was and what great posture he possessed. 

And now this guy was giving me the credit for teaching him to dance!  Wow!  It doesn't any better than this!  The thought that I had something to do with creating such a talented dancer was a very flattering compliment indeed!

That was the start of our friendship.  Every time I saw BR at the Chandelier, I would make a point to stop and say hi to him and brag about how good his dancing looked.  Then of course I would tell anyone standing nearby that I was completely responsible for turning BR into such a superstar.  It was a good schtick and BR, bless his soul, always played along. 

The truth of the matter is that the grace BR shows on the dance floor far transcends anything I ever taught the man. 

The greatest dance teacher in History is our friend 'Gravity'.  As you watch children learn to walk, you see the role Gravity plays. Think about it.  With each step, if the stride is too big, a kid loses his balance.  If the step is the right length and he transfers his weight properly, he continues to stand up. 

Good step, stand up/ Bad step, fall down.  Through these consequences born of trial and error, slowly but surely a kid gets the hang of it... and all without the help of a dance teacher! 

Dancing is the same way.  My job is to save people time by explaining more or less where the feet should go and when, but at best all I can do is teach people the Mechanics of dancing.

Like a numbered dot puzzle where a dinosaur appears once all the dots are connected, it is practice practice practice that transforms mechanical dance steps into a fluid sequence. 

And that is what happened to BR.  With years of practice, I could see that all those laps around the Chandelier floor had made BR into one of the most graceful dancers imaginable.

Recently I have written articles on the benefits of dancing to people of age.  For example, in my Dance Smart article, I wrote about how dancing apparently makes us more intelligent!

For centuries, dance manuals and other writings have lauded the health benefits of dancing, usually as physical exercise. More recently we've seen research on further health benefits of dancing, such as stress reduction and increased serotonin level, with its sense of well-being.

Most recently we've heard of another benefit:
Frequent dancing apparently makes us smarter.

A major study added to the growing evidence that stimulating one's mind by dancing can ward off Alzheimer's disease and other dementia, much as physical exercise can keep the body fit. Dancing increases cognitive acuity at all ages.

The New England Journal of Medicine published a report on the effects of recreational activities on mental acuity in aging. Here it is in a nutshell:

A 21-year study of senior citizens, 75 and older, was led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, funded by the National Institute on Aging, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Their method for objectively measuring mental acuity in aging was to monitor rates of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

The study wanted to see if any physical or cognitive recreational activities influenced mental acuity. They discovered that some activities had a significant beneficial effect. Other activities had none.

They studied cognitive activities such as:

01. reading books
02. writing for pleasure
03. doing crossword puzzles
04. playing cards
05. playing musical instruments.

And they studied physical activities like:
06. playing tennis
07. playing golf
08. swimming
09. dancing
10. bicycling
11. walking for exercise
12. doing housework.

One of the surprises of the study was that almost none of the physical activities appeared to offer any protection against dementia. There can be cardiovascular benefits of course, but the focus of this study was the mind.

There was one important exception: the only physical activity to offer protection against dementia was frequent dancing.      (read complete article)

01 - Bicycling - 0%
02 - Swimming - 0%
03 - Playing golf - 0%
04 - Reading - 35% reduced risk of dementia
05 - Doing crossword puzzles 4 days a week - 47%
06 - Dancing frequently - 76%!!  

BR Kunze seems to exemplify the findings of this study. Whenever I watch BR dance, I cannot help but think that I would be proud to move as well as he does in my later years. 

Let me add that BR is very youthful in his appearance too.  For example, recently I introduced BR to my wife Marla.  Later I asked Marla to guess his age.  Marla said 65, one year older than my own age.  I smiled and told her that BR had mentioned he was having his 80th birthday later this year. 

Marla gasped.  "No way!"

I shrugged.  "Well, that's what he told me."

Indeed, one day in June 2013, BR pulled me aside to tell me he had rented the Chandelier Ballroom for his birthday party later in the year.  He said he would remind me, but he wanted my word that I would come to his Birthday Party.  I grinned and said of course I would be there, but be sure to remind me. 

One Sunday night in early October, I took my dance class over to Wild West after class.  As I circled the dance floor, I saw BR on the side beckoning to me.  I acknowledged him with a nod and made sure to stop by on my next trip around the floor.

BR handed me an invitation to his 80th Birthday Party.  To my delight and surprise, BR had hired the most excellent Bobby Flores to perform at his party.  Better yet, the party was free.  Wow!! Normally I pay $20 to dance to this man's music. Now I was going to have the same pleasure at no charge. Woowee!

Two weeks before the Birthday Party, I ran into BR again at the Chandelier Telstar dance.  I asked him how his party was shaping up.  As we spoke, I looked around the spacious room.  I recalled I had heard of parties here attended by 400 people.

Out of curiosity, I asked BR if he had invited 400 people.  He smiled and replied, "Nah, closer to 200". 

After doing some simple math, it seemed to me there might be room for a few extra people.  So I asked BR if I could invite my regular Sunday dance class to his party. I said they could really use the practice and that I thought they would have fun.

BR smiled and said sure. 

I ran into BR yet again on Friday, November 22nd.  As the two of us watched Bobby Flores perform at the Chandelier, I was reminded that Bobby Flores would be performing again in two days at BR's birthday party.

I was sorely tempted to invite some more dance friends.  So I asked BR if he had any room for a couple more.  At first I thought he was mad because BR frowned.  But then I realized he wasn't mad at me, but rather at the weather.

"This Houston weather has been awful!  With all this rain and temperatures close to freezing, I am really worried a lot of my friends are going to skip my party.  Plus a lot of my friends don't even dance.  They were just coming to hear the music.  So I would like it if you would invite some more friends.  I would hate to see this dance floor and dance band go to waste."

I nodded.  Those were my sentiments exactly.  This man had gone to considerable expense to rent this giant dance hall and hire one the best Western Swing dance bands in Texas to perform.  So let's get as many people as we can in here and let them enjoy the show.

With that, I sent out emails to a couple dozen friends. 

Sure enough, my efforts paid off.  We ended up with 40 people in our group.  The neat thing about our group is that we danced hard.  I had several beginners in the group and they danced more at this birthday party than they had ever danced before.

This really was a golden opportunity for the dance students.  I was excited to see them having so much fun.  In addition, I took real delight in watching their progress.  I don't care how many students I have taught over the years, it always gives me satisfaction to see a student put what I taught them to good use... including BR, one of my great success stories!

However, my real thrill was seeing BR Kunze enjoy his party.

Now here before my very eyes was BR Kunze, age 80, slender, vigorous and sharp as a tack.  This guy danced almost as much as I did.  He was a real star out there.  Furthermore, every time I took a picture of BR, he was surrounded by smiling women.

Watching him in action, I could not forget my friend Jeanne had told me there was only one man who could still dance in her entire retirement home.

As the evening came to a close, I had a brief moment alone with BR.  I asked him when he started dancing.

BR smiled and said, "I started SSQQ dancing in the early 80ís.  Now here we are thirty years later.  I guess enough time has passed that I can safely say it was the smartest decision I ever made."

Right then and there, I made up my mind.  When I have my 80th Birthday Party, I want it to be just like BR's Party. 

To me, BR Kunze is my personal role model for the benefits of years of dancing.  I cannot help but conclude that a dancing lifestyle is largely responsible for creating such a vigorous man.

The exercise makes him healthy and, judging by those pretty girls, the social benefits are obviously bountiful. 

If I had one message to share, 'dance lessons' are not the answer by themselves.  The true message is a 'dance lifestyle'.

I understand that you might cynically conclude that since I teach lessons, of course I would say that.  However I sincerely believe it is true.  I not only 'talk' it, I try to live it.  As I begin the inevitable approach to my Senior years, I am convinced no other activity or hobby can possibly be healthier for your body, your mind and your spirit than social dance.  

BR Kunze is the perfect example of the truth in this wisdom. We should all be so lucky as to be as sharp as BR when we turn 80.

Rick Archer with Burnal "BR" Kunze at his 80th Birthday Party

Dancing with Vernell Foyt, the lady who organizes the dances at Chandelier

Betty and Ed Mosley

BR surrounded by friends

Bobby Flores and the Yellow Rose Band

Marie and Rick

BR with Bobby Flores and the Yellow River Band

Louise, Greg, Diane

I told BR I was mad at him because he had a bigger smile for his photo with Judy Price than he did for me.  BR then pointed out he was standing closer to her as well.  Judy laughed at her clear victory.

Then Judy reminded me she had taught BR many times in her Ballroom class over at Melody Club.  Immediately she and I got into an argument over which teacher deserved more credit for BR's excellence.  Dance teachers can be so petty sometimes.

Happy Eightieth Birthday, BR!

Rick, BR, Margaux, Carl, and Kim
On behalf of all my friends,
I would like to thank BR for throwing such a great party!!

Bobby Flores and Rick.  Yes, the dark spots on my shirt are sweat stains.
 I made a point to dance with as many ladies as I could that day.  If I am fortunate to live as long BR, all those laps will surely be worth it.


I wasn't the only one who enjoyed BR's birthday party.  We all had fun.

Gentlemen, please take note that BR has his arms around two beautiful women half his age.  And both women are smiling!  And so is BR.

Now what conclusion can we draw from this?   If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, learn to dance.

As BR said, "Learning to dance was the smartest thing I ever did."

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