The women of the Majestic Angels, a dance troupe for senior citizens in Durham, have served as examples of the power of faith and dance since 2015.
Durham resident Vanessa Dunston, 62, started the eight-person dance team after more than 30 years of military service.
“After I retired in 2011, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do,” Dunston said. “When you wear a uniform for 35 years, it’s hard to figure out once you’re out what you’re going to do.”
After being introduced to the Durham Center for Senior Life by her longtime friend and current Majestic Angel member Brenda King, Dunston established the group to reconnect with her lifelong enthusiasm for performance.
“My passion has always been dancing,” Dunston said. “I’ve danced since I was little.”
The troupe meets at the center every week for rehearsals, but Dunston has used dance personally to overcome obstacles in her life.
“It was also a way that I released a lot of pressure,” Dunston said. “I was a single parent at that time with two children, and so dance was my way out.”
Dunston hopes the Majestic Angels team will provide a positive example and inspire others to overcome their hardships through performance, too.
“We want to set an example for others — that you can get old and grow gracefully and still keep it moving,” Dunston said.
Dunston is not the only Majestic Angel member that has used use dance to overcome life’s difficulties. Allie Witherspoon, a lifelong dancer and current Durham resident, has used the Majestic Angels to recover from a stroke.
“I came into this senior center on a walker determined to, with God, get back to where I was,” Witherspoon said. “God has been good to me to keep me where I am, and I love it. I love to dance.”
Since her stroke, Witherspoon has participated in a number of programs at the Center for Senior Life, including the Majestic Angels, to recover her health and her passion for dancing.
Witherspoon has now recovered and plans to compete in multiple events at the upcoming Durham Senior Games, including badminton, ping pong, track and, of course, dance.
King has also found strength through dancing. After the recent death of her sister, King has relied on the healing power of dance and the company of her friends at rehearsals. For King, the dancing is as much for her faith in God as it is for her.
“What better way could I show that than dancing for him, for his glory,” King said.
Not all of the Majestic Angels are longtime dancers, however. Louise Gooche, 74, has been cancer-free for 15 years and picked up dancing at 72 to maintain her health and explore her interests.
“You are never ever too old to do anything that you want to do,” Gooche said. “Just to be out with your friends and keeping your body moving, your stress levels down, trying to eat well, it helps you physically, mentally and spiritually.”
Dunston said Gooche inspires her because of her age and her ability to accomplish her goals.
“I am so inspired by this lady because of the age she is and there ain’t nothing she can’t do,” said Dunston. “That’s an example for the young people to come and see that there is life after old age.”
Gooche is also the founder and current captain of the Durham Divas n’ Dudes, a senior citizen cheerleading squad. Many dancers, such as Gooche and Witherspoon, perform with both programs.
The Majestic Angels are currently preparing for a performance at the Durham Senior Games on April 17. In the past, the Majestic Angels have consistently earned second place with their dance routines. This year, Dunston says she hopes the troupe will come in first place and advance on to the statewide North Carolina Senior Games competition.
Though each member of the Majestic Angels has a unique past, they all have found strength in dancing together.
“Everybody has their stories about different things that they’ve gotten through to get here, so we just want the world to know that, even though things happen to you in your life, they don’t mean you’ve got to stop and sit down,” Dunston said. “You’ve just got to keep moving and keep pushing through.”