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Long Beach teen brings Irish step dance to seniors

Hagen School of Irish Dance students Sheppard Somers

Hagen School of Irish Dance students Sheppard Somers of Rockville Centre, 15, left, Shannon Romig of Long Beach, 17, and Erin Byrne of Point Lookout, 14, right, teach Dorothy Zuckerman, 86, the basics of Irish step dancing at Atria Tanglewood assisted living in Lynbrook Monday. (July 9, 2012) Credit: Barry Sloan

Dorothy Zuckerman is no stranger to the spotlight.

The 86-year-old new resident at the Atria Tanglewood assisted living center in Lynbrook is a jazz singer who’s done a fair share of dancing in her day.

So when she found out a group of Irish step dancers was coming to the center to teach a lesson, she sat right up front. When they asked if anyone wanted to get up and learn a few steps, she was the only one who did.

“I was trying to learn but I have too many feet,” she joked after fumbling a few steps.

Holding her hand through the steps — literally — was Shannon Romig, 17, of Long Beach, who organizes regular trips to bring Irish step dance to seniors at Atria, as well as Long Beach Medical Center, in Long Beach; Park Avenue Extended Care, in Long Beach; and Mercy Medical Center, in Rockville Centre.

In addition to programs for seniors, the group also performs for children at medical centers and camps around the island.

Romig, who has been taking Irish step dance lessons since she was 5 years old, first approached an employee at Long Beach Medical Center about volunteering there three years ago, and she suggested Romig combine her interests.

“At the Hagen School of Dance, my teacher Jean Hagen encourages us to connect the community with Irish step dance,” she said. “So I talked to her about if I could do this program and she told me I should bring the other dancers.”

Romig and a group of other dancers, all in the highest level of instruction at the Hagen School of Irish Dance, perform for senior citizens at all four locations. But at Atria, they spend half of their time doing simple instruction, incorporating moves the seniors can do from their seats and holding their hands if they’d like to stand.

While Irish step dancing might not seem like a senior-citizen friendly activity, Scott Eliscu, executive director at Atria Tanglewood, said it’s proved to be an entertaining and energizing program for them.

“Our residents love dancing,” he said. “In their younger days, they were probably all over the floor.”

He said the center encourages its residents to keep trying new things, and he said this form of dance is something out of the ordinary.

“Stimulating the mind is the goal,” he said.

Romig, who has traveled the country competing in Irish step dance and hopes to compete in Ireland next year, said not only is Irish step dance new to most of the residents, but it’s a form of dance that is always evolving.

“It’s changed and evolved over the years,” she said. “It’s something fresh for them.”

As the six dancers re-emerged to the crowd of seniors to perform — now dressed in their elaborate and colorful costumes — there were gasps, and some started to clap even before they began to dance.

“It was just breathtaking,” Zuckerman said. “It brings joy to everyone.”

Above: Hagen School of Irish Dance students Sheppard Somers of Rockville Centre, 15, left, Shannon Romig of Long Beach, 17, and Erin Byrne of Point Lookout, 14, right, teach Dorothy Zuckerman, 86, the basics of Irish step dancing at Atria Tanglewood assisted living in Lynbrook Monday. (July 9, 2012)

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