published Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Gymnast and ballroom dancer Betty Young doesn't let age stop her

Betty Young can turn a cartwheel, do the splits and balance in a handstand on a man's shoulders.

"I would really like to be able to do back flips," she said, "but I don't know if that's on my can-do list."

Maybe she'll learn by the time she turns 69 in August.

Four years ago, Ms. Young began taking private ballroom dancing classes with Denny Lennon of Chattanooga DanceSport. Last year, she began gymnastics classes, joining the ministry performance team of mostly adolescents who train at SonRise Gymnastics in Cleveland, Tenn.

"I've always been active around the house," said Ms. Young, who lives in the house in which she was raised, on 65 acres, with three donkeys and four cats. "I have to mow and use the rototiller. I just like to learn new things."

What made you want to start ballroom dancing at 65?

I was by myself, and I decided it was maybe time to learn something new. I remembered when I was growing up I saw Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I had this idea in the back of my mind that someday I might want to do something like that, so when I had the opportunity I went ahead and started taking some lessons. I've done five competitions and several showcases with Denny.

What are some of your favorite and most challenging dances?

I like all of them, but my favorite, I guess, is the waltz. It's just a really beautiful dance. The Latin, I like the rhumba and the cha cha. I like the tango. The only one I have trouble with might be the samba. We don't practice it as much. It's not moves that I can't do, but some of the steps where we have to step sideways and cross over (can be tough).

  • photo
    Staff photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Betty Young started gymnastics one year ago while in her 60's and is now practicing three times a week.

What about learning gymnastics?

I thought I would like to try gymnastics. I wondered if there was somebody who could work with a person my age. Then a couple of weeks later a friend of mine told me she was going to start taking gymnastics with her little girl. At that time I didn't know there was a gym in Cleveland. He told her to tell me to come in.

The only thing that made me nervous is when we started practicing a three-high. That's when I balance on (coach Glen Wolters') shoulders and his little girl balances on my shoulders.

Your son said you can do 50 pushups?

Yes, but not from my toes. I do the ladies' style from my knees. I don't do all 50 right in a row, but I can do 25. At the gym the other day, he said do 50 sit-ups and 50 pushups, so I did 25 sit-ups and 25 pushups, and then went back and did 25 more sit-ups and 25 more pushups. I'm actually getting some muscle that shows.

What have you learned from your experiences?

I hope what I'm doing will be something that can maybe inspire other people as they age to not just sit and not do anything. You've got to have something to do. I know that whatever I decide I want to do, I pretty much can accomplish what I want. I know other people have disabilities so they can't. I feel I've been really blessed that my health is still good. This past week in gymnastics, he started me working on the trampoline some and on the bars.

Quick Bites

* Has four grown children and two grandsons.

* Has recorded every season of "Dancing With the Stars." Her favorites have been Apolo Anton Ohno and Donny Osmond.

* Is a retired photo lab technician.

* Enjoys romantic comedies and loved "The Bucket List."

* She is a former clog dancer.

* Is learning to play the dulcimer.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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