Tribune Print Share Text

Move your feet to the beat

Latin dance class picks up the pace at Riderwood

Created date

August 20th, 2014
picture of a dance class

If you saw Martin Swetnick leading a group of his neighbors in salsa dancing and mambo moves, you might be surprised to learn that he is a nonagenarian—a person between 90 and 99 years old. For several years, Martin, a spry and vibrant resident at. Riderwood, an Erickson Living community in Silver Spring, Md., has been teaching an exercise class called Move to the Latin Beat. 

Martin says the one-hour class is designed simply to get people moving in a lively environment that keeps them coming back for more. Every Monday morning, Martin demonstrates simplified versions of classic Latin dance moves for groups of more than 30 people. 

“We normally start with a couple of sambas, and then we move on to rumbas, salsas, and mambos,” Martin says. “Next, we do some moves from the cha-cha and the Macarena. Then we end up with a fast merengue. We cover the full spectrum of Latin music.”

A lifelong love of Latin music

Martin’s love of Latin music and dance dates back to his young adulthood. He says he visited a friend in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and was instantly enchanted by the sound of Latin music.

“As I was walking down the street in San Juan, I heard all of these Latin rhythms coming out of the open windows,” he says. “I wanted to buy some records and bring them home with me.”

A few years after he returned from his visit to San Juan, Martin says, Latin music started gaining popularity in the U.S. As a young man in New York, Martin frequented the dance halls, where he learned the moves to the cha-cha, the merengue, and other Latin dances.

“Now that I am at Riderwood, I thought, ‘Let’s put it to good use,’” Martin says of his dance skills. “I keep reading the medical journals that say moving the body is good for lifelong fitness. Reports say your blood pressure goes down and longevity will increase if you keep moving.” 

Active lifestyle improves longevity

Martin offers the Move to the Latin Beat classes to his neighbors free of charge. He says about 150 participate in the classes each month.

“It’s a wonderful group of body movements, which is so important,” Martin says. “People do come to me after class and tell me they enjoy it very much.”

About six years ago, Martin moved to Riderwood from Montgomery Village. After his wife passed away, he wanted the convenience and social life that a continuing care retirement community can provide. He looked at a few different communities, but he says Riderwood was by far the most vibrant place he visited. 

There was a wait for the second floor, Dover-style apartment home with a balcony that Martin wanted, but he joined the priority list and says it was worth it. He jokingly calls his one-bedroom home his “bachelor” apartment. 

Living at Riderwood has helped Martin maintain an active lifestyle and stay physically fit during his retirement. When asked about the secret to his longevity, Martin is quick to credit Latin dancing.

“I’ll be celebrating my 91st birthday in September, and I attribute part of that to Move to the Latin Beat,” he says.