Overland Park & Leawood

Teens and senior citizens bridge generation gap at Spring Fling dance

Bobby Darin crooned that Mack is back. Justin Timberlake bragged about bringing sexy back.

And in between the two hit songs Wednesday night, Alan Oehrle’s feet never left the dance floor.

He twirled beaming teenage girls wearing pastel-colored sundresses. He lovingly held his wife, Georgia, during ballads. He couldn’t contain his laughter while throwing up his hands during a conga line around the room.

“It’s fun to let loose,” the 76-year-old man said with a huge grin. “We’ll be very tired tomorrow, but it’s worth it.”

Alan and Georgia Oehrle were enjoying the fifth annual Spring Fling dance at the Tallgrass Creek senior living center in Overland Park. The event, which is organized by the Blue Valley North High School Student Council, dismantles the generational barrier by bringing high school students and senior citizens together for a prom-type dance.

Several Tallgrass Creek residents showcased their moves on the dance floor with the high school students, while others chose to drink punch and chat with friends.

“I can’t keep up with their enthusiasm all night, but I really enjoy interacting with the children,” said Don Pinkston, a Tallgrass Creek resident. “They’re excellent dancers and light on their feet. I always look forward to this event, and I know even those who don’t dance look forward to it as well.”

They’re not the only ones.

The Blue Valley North Student Council members eagerly anticipate the dance each year, pointed out their adviser, Erin Nathan.

She couldn’t wipe the smile off her face when she saw the dance floor light up with cheers and laughter while the students and residents attempted the Cha Cha Slide.

“This is a night I totally get to see a new side of the students,” Nathan said. “They’re all great kids and to see them just let loose and have fun, without any worries, is refreshing.”

For an hour and a half, the dancers demonstrated old-school moves, from the waltz to the foxtrot. When the current hits came on, the teenagers encouraged the residents to freestyle.

“I don’t really consider myself a good dancer but I’ve been trying my best,” said Michael Chu, a Blue Valley North sophomore. “This atmosphere is very inviting and laid back, which is so different than our school dances, which are more intimate. It’s nice to just hang out casually and get to know people while dancing.”

One student who impressed everyone on the dance floor was Clayton Covington, a 16-year-old who has been taking ballroom dancing lessons for the past five years.

He delighted many of the residents with his effortless salsa moves.

“I love ballroom dancing because it really sets the footstones for what we do today,” Covington said. “Many of the seniors here are excellent dancers, which has made tonight so much fun.”

Some of the Tallgrass Creek residents have been taking lessons of their own as well.

While sitting in the crowd, 84-year-old Pinkston explained that he and his wife started a dance group at Tallgrass Creek five years ago.

So far, the group has around 20 members who spend every week in the spring and fall taking ballroom dancing lessons and practicing their moves.

He loves that they get to show off their skills with the kids during the Spring Fling dance every year.

The Oehrles, who delightfully stayed glued to the dance floor, are also members of the group. Georgia revealed that she and her husband had never actually danced before joining the group four years ago.

“I never thought we’d start dancing at this time in our life,” she said. “But after I read an article about how dancing can help keep Parkinson’s disease at bay, I figured it would be fun and healthy to do. It just proves that anyone can learn something new at any time.”

In addition to putting her lessons to good use, Georgia said her favorite part of the night was getting to know the kids.

In between songs, many of the students trickled off the dance floor to chat with residents relaxing at the tables.

“It’s awesome to talk to people who have been around the block,” said Joseph Bricker, 17. “Many people here are great conversationalists, so it’s been very easy to break the ice. I think it’s important for young people to interact with people of all generations, just to see all different aspects of the world.”

And while the dance was designed to bring generations together through dance and conversation, it also provided another outlet — it allowed the students to simply be themselves.

“It’s nice to just be a kid without having to worry about the stereotypes of high school,” said Miranda Hall, the Blue Valley North Student Council president. “Tonight is just about having fun.”