This issue’s Amazing Senior has been amazing audiences for decades, and she doesn’t let age stop her. Melanie LaJoie, director of A Magi Belly Dance in Orlando, is a truly amazing example of living life to the fullest. Melanie started dancing as a child in the Boston area, and she found belly dance through that. “I had been taking different styles of world dance as a young child, including doing folk dances from Lithuania at my elementary school, plus my father taught me Island dancing from his visits to those countries in World War II,” she explains. “Plus I had Tap & Jazz training. I saw a course offered in ‘Oriental Dance.’ It sounded intriguing. I was 17 [at the time] and signed up for that and martial arts, thinking they were somehow related. As I stepped into my first class in this genre, I knew it was as a part of my DNA, which it is, and have been hooked since then—47 years later!” Years of dance training turned into a very successful career for Melanie, who has performed all over the world—Morocco, the Caribbean, Europe and Egypt, to name just a few. She has danced for the rich and famous: Steven Spielberg, Paul Newman, Patrick Swayze, Rosie O’Donnell, Alice Cooper and Deepak Chopra. In addition, she assists other dancers in bookings at theme parks, for parties and more. She is a producer and choreographer, as well as a dancer. Twenty-five years ago, Melanie decided to make an even bigger mark in Orlando and encourage more people to try belly dance. She opened A Magi Belly Dance, now one of the most respected dance studios in the area. At A Magi, students of all ages and skill levels are welcome, from children to seniors. In fact, belly dance can be especially beneficial for seniors, according to Melanie. “[Belly dance] is a natural form of dance exercise that works on toning/strengthening all muscles plus it’s a cardio workout. Anyone of any age can do it!” she says. “Dance is a creative outlet and a great way to exercise for health and fitness for all ages: young and old. As I teach Belly Dance as a Physical Education course at Valencia College, over these years I have explored how to teach where there is no joint pain and developed leg positions/stances and proper posture with joint alignment that utilizes the supportive muscles for ease of movement. When everyone is in the proper position, there are no joint issues or pain. I have seen some of my older students do just as well as the younger students!” Melanie also loves the social aspects of belly dance, having made many close friends over the years through the dance community. She believes that to be another wonderful aspect of this art form. “People of all ages do belly dance in the Middle East, especially at weddings and other festive occasions. Because of its worldwide popularity, many people love to join in with the belly dance to do joyful shimmies at parties, young and old!” Reaching the Golden Years has changed some things for Melanie, which she understands. But rather than letting that get her down, she has found ways to continue her own journey while passing knowledge and opportunities to others. She teaches at Valencia College and does all she can to help fellow dancers and students. “I excuse myself from some shows, especially theme park and corporate events because the clients expect youthful dancers,” she explains. “Since I train some dancers to become professional, I book them for those type of events but feel like I’m helping other dancers realize their dreams and goals, like watching a butterfly emerge from the cocoon. It’s quite an uplifting feeling!” As if that wasn’t enough, Melanie is also an avid martial arts enthusiast, another pastime she found through dance. “I wanted to learn Chinese Dance, but found Kung Fu instead,” she says. “I have been training the last 17 years at Wahlum Kung Fu [in Orlando].” Her dedication has paid off wonderfully—Melanie has four gold medals from the International Chinese Martial Arts Tournaments. We are proud to feature Melanie as our Amazing Senior. She is proof that age doesn’t have to slow you down. We are excited to see more incredible things from Melanie and all of her students. Keep on dancing! If you wish to learn more about bellydancing, visit www.amagibellydance.com.