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In Plainview, woman sashays her way to her 100th birthday

Betty Yoelson, center, celebrates her 100th birthday dancing

Betty Yoelson, center, celebrates her 100th birthday dancing to folk music with friends and family at the American Legion Hall in Plainview on Sept. 17, 2015. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Rockville Centre resident Betty Yoelson started dancing in 1951 and hasn't stopped.

In honor of her 100th birthday on Oct. 7, the folk dancing community threw a surprise party for Yoelson Thursday at the American Legion Hall in Plainview, where Yoelson attends classes under instructor Ellen Golann, 80, of Woodbury.

Yoelson found the occasion, which drew an estimated 50-60 friends and relatives, "totally, totally overwhelming . . . I'm just so happy that I'm able to appreciate it," she said.

Having been dancing since the Truman administration, Yoelson has learned -- and forgotten -- a lot of steps. Her more than 60-year dancing journey began after she saw a group square dancing and said to herself, "That's for me!"

She started in partner dances, but Yoelson fell in love with dances from Bulgaria, Hungary and others from the Balkan region -- though she loves all kinds of dancing.

Before she broke her hip in a fall at the age of 98, Yoelson was teaching dance in Freeport. Her former students and friends from the folk dancing community say she is one of the best -- at any age.

"I think she's been dancing since she was in the womb," said Elaine Nathanson, 79, of Jericho, one of Yoelson's former students. "She is the best dancer I've ever met. When she dances, it's like her feet never hit the ground."

Yoelson nearly cried when she saw one of her daughters, who was part of the surprise.

"This is unbelievably wonderful," Yoelson told the crowd, before leading everyone in a Bulgarian Circle Dance.

Earlier, Yoelson joked that her 58-year-old daughter, Rebekah Frome of Montclair, New Jersey, said she "'looked terrific and walked like an 85-year-old.'"

She moved like someone much younger.

Yoelson, a widow, credits genetics for her longevity -- and dancing -- for helping her keep going.

"Being 100 is wonderful, but it does look better than it is," Yoelson said. "It takes all my energy and determination. When I come here, once the music and dancing starts, it's like the beat of your heart. It gives you energy."

Frome said, "It's sort of a religion for her. The community of folk dancing is so important to her. It's one of the most important themes in her life."

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