Watching 91-year-old Rose Manica on the dance floor and looking at her collection of medals, you would never know that she started training less than three years ago.
She wanted to dance ever since she was a little girl, but other responsibilities in life got in the way.
“You can’t always do what you want to do, so I bided my time” she said.
The wait paid off. Last month, Manica competed at the the Heart of America Dancesport Championship at the Westin at Crown Center in Kansas City and took home 15 first-place awards, including two gold medals and one bronze. At the three-day competition, she danced the waltz, the foxtrot and the swing in the Smooth category, as well as the cha-cha, rumba and tango in the Rhythm category.
On the competitive dance floor, dancers have just a few minutes to prove they have style, grace and mettle. The pressure can be intense, but Manica loves the elegance of dancing, as well as the beautiful gowns. But just because a dancer has a beautiful costume and looks good dancing doesn’t mean they’re the best.
“You can’t just pick up your foot and put it down,” she said.
At competitions, Manica competes in the 65 or 75 and over categories. Her dance partner and instructor Romeo Bagunu said there are usually only three or four women in those categories, but rarely are they close to Monica’s age, with many as much as 16 years younger.
Judges look for obvious things like rhythm, posture and style, but critique even the smallest movements like how a person moves their feet.
Keeping good posture and remembering all the steps keeps her mentally sharp and more agile. Manica said her doctors attribute her good health to the regular exercise she gets while dancing.
She began dancing when took a dance class offered at Olathe’s Santa Marta retirement community. Gina Zwickel, director of resident services and fitness, said such classes are designed to help residents stay fit and healthy.
“It strengthens your core, which makes your limbs and everything else stronger,” she said
But Manica takes dancing beyond exercise to a form of art, Bagunu said. She is constantly pushing her instructor to help her improve. She works with Bagunu twice a week and participates in the Santa Marta classes three times a week. Dancing takes a lot of energy, but Bagunu said Manica never slows down.
“She’s like the Energizer Bunny, she just keeps going and going,” he said.
Manica’s drive and passion for dancing would be impressive to anyone, but perhaps it is her son Larry who is most proud of her achievements.
“She’s just really inspiring,” he said.