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The Miami Heat's Golden Oldies hit the court for a new season

The Miami Heat's Golden Oldies perform at the former FTX arena in downtown Miami.
Cristina Sullivan
The Miami Heat's Golden Oldies perform at the former FTX arena in downtown Miami.

Whether it's in front of thousands of people or just by yourself, the Golden Oldies remind everyone to keep on dancing.

It's easy to spot Mary Ellen Grey in a crowd thanks to her bright cherry-red hair. It matches the colorful Miami Heat logo on her shirt.

She wears one NBA championship ring around her neck, marking her tenure as one of the Miami Heat's Golden Oldies. The senior dance crew for people over the age of 60 formed around 2004. Since then, dancers like Grey have been burning up the basketball court with their dance moves.

"The Heat have always been my first love since 1988 when the team originated," she said.

She had one hip and two separate knee replacements back-to-back from 2016 to 2018. The consecutive surgeries couldn't keep the 73-year-old from performing. Now she's back again for the basketball team's 35th season.

"You get to a certain age, you're old. No, you're only as old as you think you are," Grey said. "Some days, I think I'm only 40, but my daughter said that can't be because she's 40."

Over the course of eight years, she has danced on the same courts as NBA starslike Chris Bosh, Lebron James and Dwayne Wade.

Grey had been a middle school teacher in Broward County for 40 years. Before joining the Golden Oldies, most of the dancing she had done had been limited to Zumba, Jazzercise and step classes.

"I really didn't know I was signing up for hip hop, booty shaking, dancing. So it was marvelous," she said.

At their biweekly dance practice at a senior center in Miramar, everyone was decked out in Heat gear — some donned bejeweled snapbacks while others wore Dwayne Wade jerseys with bright red sneakers.

The Golden Oldies Miami Heat.JPG
The Miami Heat's Golden Oldies practice at a senior center in Miramar.

The team is made up of 20 or so people who have to audition every year. Throughout the season, they perform during at least 10 games. Their dance routines involve different formations and sample a mix of different genres from old-school hip-hop to R&B. During one of their practices, they all wore sunglasses and black jerseys as a part of a surprise reveal for their performance.

It's a change of pace for former Arthur Murray dance instructor David Wilmore who was more accustomed to dancing the Waltz and the Foxtrot.

"After the first session, I realized whatever I know, leave it at the door because this is different," Wilmore said.

The 80-year-old has been shimmying and swiveling his hips with the Golden Oldies for six years. The practices can be challenging, but he looks forward to them, he said.

There's boundless chatter and laughter to fill the moments of rest between dancing. The former school teachers in the room give tips on how to fix the t- shirts they need to wear for their performance.

"It's a connection. It completes my day. And when I'm not here, I miss the people, I miss the activities, I miss the work ethic that we put into it," Wilmore said.

Alyssa Ramos
The Miami Heat's Golden Oldies dancers watch videos of their practice.

Wilmore kept his audition under wraps so no one knew that he had tried out for the dance team. When his friends and family found out, they couldn't believe it.

"When I finally made it, they goes, 'you're doing what?' I said, I'm a cheerleader for the Miami Heat. They goes, you got to be kidding me. I go, Nope," he said.

Their dance director is a former Heat dancer. She records videos, some of her demonstrating the moves and another of the Golden Oldies practicing. It gives them a chance to monitor their movements and work on their choreography at home.

"So I tell friends of mine, you guys see the end results on the floor, and it looks like all fun. But behind the scenes, we really work twice a week, two hours a day, because we have to be as professional as possible," he said.

You get to a certain age, you're old. No, you're only as old as you think you are
Mary Ellen Grey, member of the Golden Oldies

A spot on the Golden Oldies has offered an opportunity for members without professional dance experience to live out their childhood dreams.

Take third-time dancer Lavia Aragon. The 65-year-old usually dances in the front row. She's a dancer by nature, incorporating dance as part of her daily life in one way or another, whether it's teaching kids for dance competitions or just dancing for fun. This opportunity has given her a platform to entertain and share her talents — she calls this her "starlight moment." It's her time to shine.

"When we get out there, your adrenaline is just so high. You don't really have time to think about who's watching you," Aragon said. "You just do your thing."

Nothing beats the roar of the crowd in the arena for the first time. The Golden Oldies are considered a fan favorite at the games.

The Miami Heat's dance director for the Golden Oldies records a dance practice.
Alyssa Ramos
The Miami Heat's dance director for the Golden Oldies records a dance practice.

Barbara Sanders had to wait for two years before she could reach the 60-year age limit before trying out for the team. Now, the 69-year-old former educator from Broward is dancing for her ninth season.

Every clap, every step and every clap reverberates with energy. Dancing keeps her young and the music feeds the soul, she said.

"I just had my 50th class reunion. However, I've lost so many classmates, so it is a privilege to still be doing at my age what I'm doing now," Sanders said. "And I do not take it for granted at all."

Alyssa Ramos is the multimedia producer for Morning Edition for WLRN. She produces regional stories for newscasts and manages digital content on WLRN.
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