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How the elders of Lima are staying young

I WAS TRYING to take pictures in Kennedy Park in Miraflores when all of a sudden I was swept onto a circular dance floor.

A man in his 80s, in his Sunday best pinstripe shirt and khakis, took my hand gently and led me to the center of the dance floor so we could enjoy the dance that is much loved in Peru, the salsa.

My partner, Julius, guided me through the moves. I followed his steps, and he smiled with a wrinkled grin as I tripped over my feet. He twirled, shimmied and hummed. When the song was over, he gave me a hug, kissed me on the cheek and waved at me as I walked away.

In those brief minutes, my dance partner had transported me to a space I had never been before.

This is not an unusual event for the people of Miraflores, in Lima, Peru.

Julius is one of dozens who partake in the end-of-the-week dancing in central Miraflores. In Kennedy Park every weekend, dozens of older couples gather informally to dance among the crowds and trees. A DJ arrives and plays light rhythms for the group as they bop along. There are only smiles from both the dancers and the onlookers.

Lebow and Julius dancing together at Kennedy Park in Miraflores, Lima, Peru. | Jordan Clay

Little does much of the audience know, this salsa program, Tercera Edad, or Third Age, was established to support the physical and mental health of Miraflores’s older population. As the website states, this is necessary because older people, “are more prone to suffer from problems and diseases due to the aging of their age.” Dancing is good for the body, keeping muscles healthy and strong and warding off feelings of loneliness. Here, the neighborhood’s older citizens can forget their age-related ailments and feel young again.

Tercera Edad initiated the effort 14 years ago, and since then the event has only grown. Residents and tourists alike cannot help but stop and watch.

A salsa enthusiast, Juan Sandoval, observes from outside the circle. He watches the dancers, waiting to make his entrance. Juan has been coming to dance in the park for years. “I like to look for a younger woman to dance with,” he jokes. “Then we dance for hours.” Sandoval said this program has really helped older people in the community.

Luis Enrique, like Sandoval, is a weekly dancer at Kennedy Park. He departs the dancing ring exhausted but with a smile on his face. He says he learned salsa here and has been attending the weekly event for over a year. He is from the Peruvian department of Amazonas in northern Peru, but since moving to Lima, he has enjoyed all the city has to offer, including its dance scene. “The people here love to dance,” he says with a grin. He comes every Sunday hoping to scoop up a new partner. Each weekend, the festivities and the music brighten his day.

One evening, tourists huddled around the scene, taking in all they could.

I managed to speak to a few. A couple in their 20s, David and Lily, watched the salsa dancing intently. They were visiting from the North German city of Hamburg, and they were excited to see something different from home. “We dance in Germany,” Lily says, laughing, “but not like this.” David adds, “We like the music, too.”

I watched the 80-somethings hop and spin to the rhythm of the music with brightly colored clothing and smiles on their faces. They moved smoothly and giggled like young kids. It became clear to me then that age is only a state of mind.

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