By Lynne Shallcross
On a recent Tuesday night in San Pablo, singer Patti LaBelle's voice blared from a black stereo inside a florescent-lit classroom in the newly built San Pablo Community Center.
Inside, nearly two dozen dancers were working up a sweat to LaBelle’s soulful voice as Patricia Lowe called out dance steps for them to follow.
“Five, six, seven, eight! Go one-two! One-two! One, two, three, four. Now shake it!”
Two days a week, Lowe — whose dance name is Chocolate Platinum — leads what she calls a “soul line dance” class. It’s a chance for community members to get together and dance for health and wellness, and have fun at the same time.
Lowe calls it soul line dancing because she’s teaching line dancing steps to R&B soul music, along with a handful of other genres, like jazz and country. She’s been teaching classes since 2012, first in Oakland and now at the community center in San Pablo.
“I have literally been dancing some form of dance all my life,” Lowe said. She feels that using her passion for a positive purpose in the community is something she’s been called to do. “I just love what I do. I mean, I feel that I was given a gift and that I’m supposed to do this. I’m supposed to dance, I’m supposed to share what I know with the next person.”
Lowe has always been active. She’s been a gym-goer all her life, but she said knows the gym isn’t for everyone — like, for example, Lowe’s dance student Veronika King.
King has been a member of the same gym for five years — and in those five years, she’s gone just twice. “This is more appealing to me,” King said. “I like to dance. I can go places and do the dances and then people are like, ‘Look at her! Look at her! Look at her!’ So this is just more exciting than exercising [in] a traditional gym setting.”
Marilyn Hudsnail is another of Lowe’s faithful dancers. When Hudsnail began attending Lowe’s classes in February 2013, she had high cholesterol and was borderline diabetic.
Now, less than two years later, she’s dropped 86 pounds and has said goodbye to her diabetes and cholesterol problems. She also had anxiety and panic attacks before she started dancing — now, she doesn’t have those either. “It helped me mentally, physically and spiritually,” she said.
When Hudsnail began losing weight, it inspired her to dance even more. “Now, you can’t stop me from dancing,” she said. “I dance all the time. Anyplace, anywhere. I be at the bus stop and dancing and people be looking at me, it doesn’t matter. They don’t realize where I came from and where I am now. So I dance all the time.”
Those kinds of stories are why Lowe keeps doing what she’s doing. “I believe that people should be able to enjoy the world and themselves and their families. Because with good health, you are able to do more with your family, you’re able to do more with your own self.”
After Lowe retired from the Alameda County Probation Department — where, among other things, she organized dance and exercise events for the juveniles in custody — she began line dancing as a hobby. “I just fell in love with it,” she said.
Giving back to the community is a priority to Lowe, an Oakland native who graduated from UC Berkeley. She offers free classes from time to time, and she and her team of dancers perform at a variety of events in the community including, for example, San Pablo’s Fourth of July celebration.
“We talk about health, wellness, and then we show them by demonstrating soul line dance steps to music. We usually go out to the audience and get audience participation so that they will have a natural feel [that] I don’t have to be the greatest dancer, I don’t have to be the best dancer, but I can line dance for my own health and wellness.”
Concerned about the uptick in health issues like obesity and diabetes, Lowe wants her fellow community members to know they can take preventative measures, like dancing for exercise, to keep themselves healthy and living long.
“We all have a purpose in life,” Lowe said. “Mine was to help people in any means possible, but I do it through dance.”