FYI

98-year-old Ginger Arn still dancing

Updated: 2013-09-17T20:39:12Z

By LISA GUTIERREZ

The Kansas City Star

The heart is willing, but tonight, the body is not.

The feet in those golden slippers have danced miles around this town, in this ballroom and that VFW hall, anywhere there was live music. Tonight they are unsteady as a toddler’s.

And her dance partner? He’s not the one that brung her.

George Hickerson holds tightly onto the china doll of a woman in his arms, strong arms guiding 98-year-old Ginger Arn around the floor at Danny’s Big Easy.

Time was, he could spin her two, three, four times in a row, fast as a top. How she loved to spin. He twirls her slowly now, carefully, determined Ginger will not fall, not on his watch.

Buoyed by morphine, she rests her head against his chest like a child as she tires. She never used to dance the slow songs; she griped that they put her to sleep.

Rest was a necessary evil for Ginger and her long-time dance partner Warren Haycock, the senior sweethearts a presence on the local dance scene for many years.

They made a splash wherever they went: Warren in the colorful jackets he favored; Ginger in the sparkly doll-like outfits he bought for her. They danced on the cloud of her Wind Song fragrance.

They made up their own moves — “our style,” Ginger called it. Warren never got much out of dance lessons.

“So I said the heck with it,” he once explained. They decided, “Why take dancing lessons and spend all that money because nobody knows you’re doing the right steps in the first place? We just go to the beat of the music and do it our way. It may not be like ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ but people seem to like what we’re doing.”

They surely did. CBS’ “The Early Show” once filmed them dancing at the Camelot Ballroom.

“We’ve been going to the same dances for years and years and years,” says Hickerson, 72, a retiree from Platte City. “We always said it wasn’t a real dance unless Warren and Ginger were there.

“You couldn’t leave early because you couldn’t get tired before they did.”

Warren and Ginger met after their spouses died. Ginger, who loved to dance, had been married to a man who hated to dance.

Warren, who spent 21 years in the military, had lost his wife to breast cancer.

They became a couple when he asked her to dance one Saturday night, a memory she tucked away as “this little guy walking across the floor” toward her. She joked about her “cougar” status; she was 11 years older than Warren.

They lived together — “unofficially betrothed,” Warren called it — and danced six, sometimes seven, days a week. As they grew older, Ginger was ordered by the doctor to add power naps between their morning and evening dances.

She once proclaimed that “all I do is sleep and dance. To heck with everything else!”

Warren believed that dancing was keeping his girlfriend alive. “If she stops dancing, she freezes up,” he once said.

Over Super Bowl weekend in February, Ginger was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Doctors told her family she had, at best, three months left to live. But she and Warren were back dancing by May.

In early July, a hospice worker found Warren, not Ginger, on the floor of their Raytown apartment. Ginger’s self-described “chauffeur, social secretary and fashion adviser” died on July 16 at age 87.

“People didn’t really know how sick Warren was; he never told anybody,” says Cherie Erickson, Ginger’s daughter. “His goal in life was to take care of my mom.”

What Warren kept secret was that he had heart disease. His kidneys had gone bad, too. “His whole body just shut down,” Erickson says.

“Normally, when you go to the funeral of an 80-year-old, you’ll see a few young people,” George Hickerson says. “But that room was full of people from 20 years old on up.”

Every week, friends from their dance circles drive out to Belton, where Ginger lives now with her son, and bring her to Kansas City to dance.

And that’s the way things will go as long as her mother wants it, Erickson promises. For just like Warren, she believes that dancing is keeping her mother alive.

“They didn’t have any shortcomings in their own eyes,” Hickerson says of Warren and Ginger.

“They just lived their life. That is what they did, and that is what they wanted to do. I think they were very beautiful people because of it.”

To reach Lisa Gutierrez, call 816-234-4987 or send e-mail to lgutierrez@kcstar.com.

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