Meet the 99-year-old Irish dancer who just competed in the World Tango Championships

Jim McManus, who has just competed in the World Tango Championships at the age of 99, tells Rowena Walsh why we should all put on our dancing shoes.

Meet the 99-year-old Irish dancer who just competed in the World Tango Championships

Jim McManus, who has just competed in the World Tango Championships at the age of 99, tells Rowena Walsh why we should all put on our dancing shoes.

THOUGH she did she did her best to impress on the Strictly dance floor, veteran TV presenter Anneka Rice was voted off the hit show last week. But at the age of 60, she’s a mere babe compared with our own Jim McManus.

The 99-year-old flew the flag for Ireland at the recent World Tango Championships in Argentina. He is the oldest person to ever compete in the competition, a feat that will see him included in the Guinness Book of Records.

Although Jim has been dancing most of his adult life, he only took up tango in 2002 after seeing an Argentine couple perform the dance.

He goes to a weekly tango class in Waterford and says that he dances as often as possible, sometimes five times a week.

He loves ballroom and Latin American, but his favourite is the tango.

“You’re moving with the music and I find that it is a good exercise,” he says.

“I’m enjoying the music and being with a partner as well. In the Argentine tango, you dance very closely with your partner. You could even say that you become like as one person because the man has to guide the lady.

He is passionate about the benefits of dancing.

“You’re exercising every muscle in your body and you’re using your brain, which helps to ward off diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”

Jim McManus, who recently danced in the World Tango Championships in Argentina, with instructor Tara Bohan of Waterford Tango. Picture: Mary Browne
Jim McManus, who recently danced in the World Tango Championships in Argentina, with instructor Tara Bohan of Waterford Tango. Picture: Mary Browne

As we grow older, we lose muscle mass, co- ordination and balance.

But research shows that putting on our dancing shoes can help to improve strength and muscle function, enhance cardiovascular health, as well as increasing balance and flexibility.

Tara Bohan, of Waterford Tango, says that people don’t realise how important dancing is for both mind and body.

“It helps you to exercise, to move muscles that you wouldn’t use if you were walking or in the gym. It’s good for the heart and the mind.

“When you retire or start to slow down, it’s easy to get caught up in just relaxing and being comfortable. If you are going to go dancing, you’re exercising the body, you’re exercising the mind, you’re active socially, you’re active mentally.

You’re using parts of the brain to help with your technique and it’s muscle memory for the brain as well as the body.

Even those who think they have two left feet can do it. “They say if you can walk, you can tango,” says Tara. “It’s a dance based on the walk.”

She believes when people say they have two left feet, it is that they lack confidence, rather than ability. As far as Tara is concerned, everyone can dance.

“I can really see the benefits for those who take up dancing,” says Tara. “Not only physically in terms of losing weight, but also socially and in terms of their confidence.”

She says that she was very shy when she first started taking tango lessons five years ago, but she’s since come out of her shell.

“It’s such a warm community, everyone is friends and we support each other. I think that’s very important because you don’t know what people are going through in their lives.”

Tara was instrumental in organising Jim’s trip to Argentina. She says the idea came to her while driving to a dance with Jim one night.

He was telling her about how he fought in the Second World War and his time in the Merchant Navy, and he mentioned that he’d never been to Buenos Aires — the birthplace of tango.

Tara set up a GoFundMe page and Jim set off to compete against 744 competitors from all over the world.

“We got off the plane on Sunday evening,” says Tara, “and he was dancing on Monday morning while the rest of us were jet-lagged. It was incredible.”

Jim, who along with his partner, received a standing ovation after the first qualifying round, says that he got halfway in the competition, which “wasn’t too bad”.

Like Tara, he stresses the importance of the social aspect of dancing.

He has said that he didn’t think about it when he was younger because he was active anyway, but feels that it’s important to do it now that he’s older because if not, you’d sink into a seat and it’s a spiral to oblivion.

For Jim, dancing means getting out and about, meeting people. “It’s a sort of way of life if you do it properly. I’m never lonely.”

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