From Heartbreakers to Shakers to Senior Steppers

Photos provided by Roberta Johnston

For almost 20 years, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member Patricia King has collected videos, T-shirts and trophies from participating in the many versions of a competitive dance group in the Community.

“I’m one of those people who collects all her stuff [over] the years,” she said. From the Salt River Heartbreakers to the Shakers to the Senior Steppers, the dance group has continued to stay active for years, regardless of their name.

The Heartbreakers began at the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona’s Indian Council on Aging Conference in 2005, which hosted team and individual competitions for representatives from the participating tribes.

“There was one event called the ‘chicken throw,’ where you throw the plastic chicken across the room and measure [the distance],” King said with a laugh. There also was an aerobic dance competition.

As a senior, and being involved at the Senior Center, King asked some of the ladies she knew if they would want to try it out. She was able to get nine people to enter that first dance competition, and the Heartbreakers took home first place.

In fact, the group won first place for several years in a row before they were finally overthrown on their home turf in the Community.

Recently, King was going through her items and came across pictures of the group accepting their award.

“I also found my diagram of the songs that we were going to do, the length of time we do it in, our lineup, how we would turn, and even the steps that we were going to use.”

In that competition, the group started with an O’odham hummingbird song, went into the electric slide and the twist, and ended with a dance to a cumbia song. “[The entire dance presentation] had to be under five minutes, so that was my first competition, and I was a new senior,” King said.

King looked around for someone to assist the group with choreography and steps because she knew the competition was going to get heavy.

Roberta Johnston used to work for the Diabetes Program, and she had the experience and resources to help the dance group take off. Eventually they were renamed the Senior Steppers.

With the support of the Diabetes Program, the group was able to get T-shirts and travel more often. Now that Johnson is no longer working for the program, the Steppers is an independent group run by Johnston.

King still keeps up with the Senior Steppers and attends some competitions, but she mainly goes to the practices.

The Senior Steppers currently have 19 members ages 58 to 76. The group remains active, most recently performing on the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation and in the Mul-Chu-Tha Parade.

Most of the members of the dance group are also on the Senior Steppers chair volleyball team, which won second place at a Valentine’s Day tournament and then won the championship at Mul-Chu-Tha with only six players on the team.

The Senior Steppers also often perform their dances during halftime at Arizona Rattlers indoor football games.

“We’re always well received. People enjoy seeing our group dance,” said Johnston.

“We get together every Tuesday, and I have a dance class where we go over our music and learn new dances. We’re just getting back into it again. Now there are new, younger seniors who are with the group. It’s exciting because they’re going through what some of us did when we first began.”

If you are 55 or older and want to join the Senior Steppers, reach out to Roberta Johnston at (480) 242-2807.

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