The Lincoln Heights Senior Center is a one-story, brick-and-cement building located a few minutes’ drive from downtown Los Angeles. It opens its doors at 8 a.m. every weekday, welcoming a largely Mexican and Central American community from throughout East LA.
It offers all the activities that draw older adults to most senior centers: bingo, computer classes and subsidized meals. But there’s one weekly event that packs the house and gets everyone on their feet: the Thursday dance. So much so, the Center has gotten the reputation of being one of the liveliest places in the neighborhood.
But you must be 60 years or older to be allowed inside. Starting at noon, a four-person live band starts playing in the big recreation room, and the tables are pushed out of the way to make room for the dancers.
For $5 a pop, men and women come every week to dance for four hours straight to bachata, cumbia, merengue and norteño music. The music is loud. And the dance floor fills up quickly, especially when the band plays Spanish-language oldies.
A few of the dancers come as part of a couple; others come alone, eager to meet strangers and possible future dates. But Blanca Acosta and Erga Cruz, two longtime female friends, have been coming to the Thursday dance for over five years, and they have no interest in meeting anybody new.
They love to gossip about some of the regulars: the ladies who come to the senior center looking for husbands; the men who go to the dances to pick up women.
“At least I don’t go there looking for men,” says 80-year-old Cruz. “You know what one of the guys told me last week? That he was going to go to the dance with you next time. And I told him, 'I doubt it, no way!' He’s a womanizer, a big womanizer.”
Acosta, who is 65, says she and Cruz love to go to the dance to get out of the house, to move a bit, and to see their large group of friends.
“Sometimes I think about older people who don’t even have the desire to go out,” Acosta says. “Maybe they think they can’t do it, but they don’t even have to dance. The whole point is to go, and to listen to music.”
But when the band stops playing at 4 p.m., the dancers must clear the room quickly. Within minutes, Acosta and Cruz are out the door, heading to a diner for dinner. The following Thursday, they’ll be back on the dance floor.
This story was made possible with support from the Eisner Foundation and KCRW.