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.
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.
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
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
And then I lost
track of him.
and I became reacquainted last year one night at the
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.
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
In other words,
the Chandelier Ballroom has become my favorite place to
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.
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
The truth of the
matter is that the grace BR shows on the dance floor far
transcends anything I ever taught the man.
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
Smart article, I wrote about how dancing apparently
makes us more intelligent!
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:
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
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
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
There was one important exception: the only physical
activity to offer protection against dementia was
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
"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
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
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
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.
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
BR smiled and
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.
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."
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
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
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
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
"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
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.
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'.
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.