Aug. 14, 2020

The Hadley Park Line Dancers

The Hadley Park Line Dancers

Meet Joann Jones. She's 79 years old, and she loves to dance

Meet Joann Jones. She's 79 years old, and she loves to dance. So, she helped start a line dancing class for senior citizens at the Hadley Park Community Center in North Nashville. For Joann, the group has become like a family. The community she's found there has helped her overcome loneliness, grief, and serious health issues. But this year, a tornado and a pandemic are testing the group's bond more than ever. special thanks to Joann Jones, Sharon Jarrett, and all of the Hadley Park Line Dancers. Here is a link to The Hadley Line Dancers Facebook page: David Condos originally recorded the tape of the dance class as part of the Transom workshop.  You can join “The Neighborhood” along with these wonderful, thoughtful, generous people by becoming a patron at Who’s in “The Neighborhood”: Allison Sebastian, Adrian Cobb, Nathalie Stewart, Ben Lehman, Caroline Martin, Clark Buckner, Cody Spriggs, Dan Burns, Em Vo, Eric Detweiler, Gina, Griffin Bonham, Heather Price, John Kesling, Landon Rives, Marc Kochamba, Patrick Black, Patrick Gillis, Ray Ware, Ryan Arnett, Samuel Adams, Tom and Rachel Kraft, Nikki Black, Hunter and Bonnie Moore, Newton Dominey, Bea Troxel, Craig and Brenda Burns, Laurel Dean, Travis Hall, Clark Hill, Tony Gonzalez, and my mom Tonya Lewis (thanks mom!) Visit our website at Leave us a review on Apple Podcasts Music from the Blue Dot Sessions and Dan Burns Our sonic logo at the beginning of the episode is by Dallas Taylor’s company Defacto Sound. Dallas makes a podcast about sound called Twenty Thousand Hertz listen at


The Hadley Park Line Dancers

[00:00:00] Cariad: [00:00:00] Hey, Jakob, what are we listening to?

Jakob: [00:00:15] So this is audio from a square dance. They happen every summer out at Bell's Bend Farm, just west of Nashville.

Cariad: [00:00:21] Oh, I have been there.

Jakob: [00:00:25] Oh, I didn't know that. That, uh, that kind of changes my script. 

[00:00:30] But, but okay. Uh, so you know, that it's awesome.

Cariad: [00:00:32] It is so awesome. And when my boyfriend told me that he was from Kentucky, it is exactly what I was hoping all of his family get togethers were like.

Jakob: [00:00:44] These barn dances are almost a transcendent experience.

Cariad: [00:00:47] They really are.

Jakob: [00:00:47] Summer bugs are out.

Cariad: [00:00:48] Yes.

Jakob: [00:00:48] Everyone's in boots and summer dresses. A string band plays in an old barn...

Cariad: [00:00:53] It's so great.

Jakob: [00:00:53] ...while 100-plus people are kicking up dust -- dosey-doing, and promenading. [00:01:00] It's just a lot of fun.

Cariad: [00:01:03] It really is so much fun.

Jakob: [00:01:05] So, Cariad, I don't know. I don't...I've never seen you dance. Do you like to dance? 

Cariad: [00:01:12] Just because you haven't  seen it, Jakob, it doesn't mean that it doesn't happen. Yes. I love to dance. I have been known to cut a rug at a wedding or two. Mostly I would describe my moves as a sort of comedy/freestyle combination, but I have taken classes.

I've taken swing dance [00:01:30] classes. And, um, I can also do a few steps to the Hustle -- which is really fun to break out on the dance floor. Um, how about you, do you like to dance?

Jakob: [00:01:39] I, I do, uh, this is definitely more of like a at home activity for me, or like yeah, like wedding reception, for sure -- a couple of beers in. But, uh, yeah, me and my wife and 14-month-old, uh, after dinner often pop on that song, um, Jump In The Line, which goes, "jump in the line [00:02:00] everybody in time. Okay. I believe you." I don't know if you know that song, but we dance to that. Some Beyonce. Um, every once in a while, I'll get on like a classic rock kick or play some like nineties alternative and, and we'll dance. And it's, uh, I surprise myself.

Like I'm also really just trying to set up today's story as well here, 

which is in fact...

Cariad: [00:02:20] Yes?

Jakob: [00:02:21] About group dancing.

Cariad: [00:02:22] Hah!

Jakob: [00:02:23] It's one of those, you know, COVID casualties. 

We just don't dance together anymore 

Cariad: [00:02:27] No. 

Jakob: [00:02:28] But before we [00:02:30] dance our way into today's story...

Cariad: [00:02:31] Nice segue.

Jakob: [00:02:33] I'm Jakob Lewis.

Cariad: [00:02:34] And I'm Cariad Harmon.

Jakob: [00:02:35] And you are listening to Neighbors.

Cariad: [00:02:37] A show about what connects us.

Jakob: [00:02:39] Just before the pandemic hit, producer David Condos met a woman from Nashville who loved, and I mean loved, to dance with her friends, despite a lot of obstacles in the way.

Cariad: [00:02:50] Today's story: The Hadley Park Line Dancers.

Joann: [00:02:58] Hello? 

David: [00:02:59] Hi, [00:03:00] Joann. This is David. 

Joann: [00:03:01] Hi, David. How are you? 

David: [00:03:02] I'm doing all right. How are you doing? 

Joann: [00:03:05] Oh, I'm doing great, thanks. I'm doing great. Just a little bored. I'm doing great. 

David: [00:03:14] Joann Jones is a 79-year-old retired school teacher. It's around 11:00 AM on a Tuesday morning when she picks up the phone. She's sitting at her home North of downtown Nashville. And until recently her Tuesday mornings were anything but boring.

[00:03:30] That's because she's a founding member of the Hadley Park Line Dancers. It's a free dance class for senior citizens that meets on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. For longtime members like Joann, the group has become a family, but like all of us who have lost something, we love due to the pandemic...

Joann: [00:03:54] We haven't been dancing. And we miss it. [00:04:00] But we gotta do what we gotta do.

David: [00:04:06] During a simpler time. I actually went and danced with Joann's class.

Joann: [00:04:09] Good job, David!

David: [00:04:12] It was just a few weeks before the pandemic started and it wasn't hard to see what Joann loved so much about this group. Now, when I say it's a dance class for seniors, you might picture couples, slow dancing to Nat King Cole, but you'd be wrong.

[00:04:30] Don't be fooled by the fact that most of this group is over 65. They're here to sweat and have fun doing it. The dancers stands side by side in long lines. They dip. They turn. They twist. They slide up and down the basketball court.

They're a tight knit community and there's one woman who stands out. 

[00:05:00] Sharon: [00:05:01] Everyone loves Joann.

Dancer 1: [00:05:02] She's an awesome lady.

Sharon: [00:05:04] Joann is wonderful, and a blessing.

Dancer 2: [00:05:07] Joann is my inspiration. 

David: [00:05:11] You might call Joann the matriarch of this family. She helped form the group and used to be their lead dance instructor.

Sharon: [00:05:19] Oh, Ms. Joann's dancing? She taught us, so she has to be outstanding.

David: [00:05:25] Joann began leading the class 12 years ago. In those days, [00:05:30] 10 seniors might show up. Now they pack 50, 75, even 100 people into this gym twice a week. 

Joann: [00:05:38] I consider them my sisters and my brothers. So we're definitely family. It's like one big happy family. To see the group dancing in unison, everybody together, it's beautiful. 

David: [00:05:56] Volunteer instructors call out the steps. Although most of the group [00:06:00] knows each song by heart. 

Joann: [00:06:01] I like Push It. I like Jamie Fox. I like Flashing. I like them all.

David: [00:06:11] Joann's in her usual spot in the front row. She's petite and slender with short black hair. She's wearing sneakers and a lime green shirt with the group's logo printed in sparkles.

Joann: [00:06:24] I love to dance. And as my husband said, "She dances in the [00:06:30] kitchen. She dances..." I dance all over the house. Cause I love it. 

David: [00:06:35] And do you really, you dance in the kitchen all over that? 

Joann: [00:06:38] Yes I do. If I hear something come on the TV or the radio, I'll dance to it.

Dancing was just in, just in me because we grew up dancing. 

David: [00:06:55] Joann was born in 1941 and grew up in the Jim Crow era [00:07:00] in South Memphis. Her father worked on the railroad to support a family of 12. 

Joann: [00:07:05] All 10 of us went to school, graduated. Even though we were segregated, we had fun growing up.

David: [00:07:15] One of the things that helped her through was the community she found around music.

Joann and her friends would gather around the radio and turn the dial to 1070 AM. 

WDIA: [00:07:27] Yes, indeed, 1070. That's it. That means [00:07:30] WDIA. That's just a thousand Watts of powered entertainment for your pleasure. 

David: [00:07:33] That's Memphis's WDIA -- America's first black radio station.

WDIA: [00:07:38] Thank you very kindly.

David: [00:07:39] And it provided the soundtrack for a lot of Joann's best memories from back then.

Including one of her favorites, which happened on Monday nights. That's when all the kids in her neighborhood headed to the YMCA, took off their shoes, and danced.

WDIA: [00:07:53] Come on baby, let's do the twist. Come on baby, let's do the [00:08:00] twist...

David: [00:08:00] What'd you think about it? Did you love it from the beginning?

Joann: [00:08:03] Loved it loved it. And that was one of the criteria. If we behaved, we get to go to the sock hop on Mondays. That was our reward.

David: [00:08:16] They'd turn on some WDIA and do a dance called the BOP. But these sock hops were about more than just bopping.

Joann: [00:08:26] So it was really like a reunion. To [00:08:30] meet. To be together again, and to enjoy something that was fun together.

David: [00:08:40] Do you think about the time when eventually you might have to stop dancing? 

Joann: [00:08:44] I don't think about that. I'm sure. You know, that's inevitable, you know, we all got to get to a point where, can't do what you used to do, but I don't even think about that anymore. 

David: [00:08:56] But seven years ago, she was forced to think about it.

[00:09:00] Joann: [00:09:00] It came upon me so suddenly I just felt like my world had just ended.

David: [00:09:12] Joann started feeling cramps in her hands, then some joint pain in her legs. She went to the doctor and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. The pain grew more and more severe until she couldn't even walk. [00:09:30] She had to use a cane and sometimes even a wheelchair. Dancing with her friends at Hadley Park was no longer a viable option.

She stepped down from leading the group and stopped coming to class. 

Joann: [00:09:46] I felt my life was over. What am I going to do? All the things that I enjoy so much I can't do anymore. And I just gave up.

I had [00:10:00] a pitty party. I was staying in, I was moody. I was crying and... Loneliness is one of those feelings that nobody wants to ever have to endure. It's like, you're isolated. It's just, you.

David: [00:10:27] This is a common feeling among seniors, [00:10:30] the isolation that comes with age, not being able to get out and do what you love.

That's why the community these dancers have found at Hadley Park is so vital.

Sharon: [00:10:43] Yeah, we have a lot of folks that came in and, you know, they was like secluded. They, you know, some of them like wasn't friendly, but, um, the class has just brought them closer together. 

David: [00:10:53] Sharon Jarrett is another member of the group.

She first showed up back when Joann was leading the class [00:11:00] and she wasn't even sure she wanted to be there.

Sharon: [00:11:02] I was one of the students. I had two left feet. I couldn't dance. I couldn't, I didn't know what they was doing.

David: [00:11:07] But Joann kept encouraging her.

Sharon: [00:11:09] Kept telling me, "come back, Sharon, come back, just keep coming back. You'll learn. You'll learn."

David: [00:11:13] And she did. Thanks to Joann and the other dancers, Sharon eventually became the lead dance instructor. She's now serving her sixth year as the group's president. 

Sharon: [00:11:23] I mean, I love it. I mean, this was like a God gift sent to me cause I was like, "ah, line dancing? I don't [00:11:30] know nothing about no line dancing." So then, to get to teach? Oh, it's like priceless. I mean, I love it. 

David: [00:11:36] That community and sense of family is what makes the Hadley Park Line Dancers so much more than a dance class. After six months of sitting at home with arthritis, Joann was stuck in what she describes as a pity party, but her friends and family knew how much this group meant to her.

So after a lot of encouragement, they eventually [00:12:00] talked her into coming back to class, even if she wasn't physically able to dance.

Joann: [00:12:05] And I would just watch, I would watch them. 

David: [00:12:12] Then something wonderful happened. 

Joann: [00:12:16] After a while it started getting better. I started moving a little bit, but it was very painful.

David: [00:12:24] Joann fought through the pain and moved as much as she could. Little by [00:12:30] little, her joints started to feel better. She didn't know if she'd ever be able to dance the way she used to, but she knew that she didn't want arthritis to come between her and her Hadley Park family ever again.

Joann: [00:12:48] I pulled myself up and got it together and made up my mind that, "Hey, this is not going to get me."

[00:13:00] Everything changes when you have that support system. And I am so happy that they are a part of my life and I'm hoping and praying that they will remain a part of my life.

David: [00:13:20] Joann knows that she and her friends get older with each Tuesday that passes. Some dance moves are still painful. Doing a twist, [00:13:30] sometimes bothers the arthritis in her knee. And some of the other founding members have passed away. 

Joann: [00:13:37] And we put on our Hadley Park T-shirts, and we go as a group to the services.

David: [00:13:43] It's that kind of family.

Joann: [00:13:44] Is that kind of family. Illness, death in the group, we'll support it. That's just the way we are.

I [00:14:00] say, enjoy life because this is the only life you have. Tomorrow's not promised. Have fun. Dance, dance, dance. And more dance.

David: [00:14:24] But this year, the group's bond has been tested more than ever. And I'm [00:14:30] not just talking about COVID-19. 

Joann: [00:14:32] Before the pandemic. You know, we had the, uh, tornado come through.

David: [00:14:40] In the early morning hours of March 3rd. An F3 tornado tore across middle Tennessee. Its path ran directly between Joann's home in Hadley Park through the historically black neighborhoods of North Nashville. When the dust settled, the storm had caused [00:15:00] $1.5B in damage and injured 220 people. Almost overnight, the community center became a shelter for those displaced in the neighborhood. The gym that would normally be filled with rows of dancers now held rows of beds. 

Joann: [00:15:15] The tornado, you know, destroyed their homes. So they were living there temporarily. 

David: [00:15:22] So the group danced at a different community center that week, then a church the week after that.

But just as Nashville [00:15:30] began to pick up the pieces from that tornado...

Newscast: [00:15:32] Decided to cancel classes tomorrow...

Several mid-state churches are closing...

Joann: [00:15:36] Well, it was, uh, on radio that, um, things would be closed. And then Sharon our, um, president, she called us all and told us that, uh, the center would be closed. But you know, at first you don't think long range.

I didn't think that it would be this long. But, um, as time [00:16:00] went on, you know, after a month or so, I saw it was getting increasingly worse. I realized that, well, it will be a while before we can get back.

David: [00:16:10] Gathering dozens of senior citizens for an hour of hugs, laughs, and indoor exercise suddenly became unthinkable.

Like all of us, the pandemic has forced Joann and the dancers to find new ways to keep their community together. The things we're all doing: checking in with video chats and staying connected on social [00:16:30] media. Instead of gathering every week at the Hadley Park gym, Joann now meets up with a couple of other dancers for socially distanced walks on a trail near her home.

Sometimes she'll run into another dancer at the grocery store. 

Joann: [00:16:43] Yeah. We just say, "Hey!" You know, we don't touch or anything like that. We do elbow sometimes and, you know, we greet each other with our elbows, but, uh, sometimes we can talk a little bit. "Hi, how you [00:17:00] doing? Miss you." And everybody seems to be doing well. Which is good news.

David: [00:17:06] And just because classes canceled, that doesn't mean they need to stop dancing completely. Joann says she's still known to dance across the kitchen when the mood strikes her. Every once in a while, she and her friends will break out a few dance steps during one of those trail walks. 

Joann: [00:17:21] So we're still together, we're apart, but we're not apart.

David: [00:17:27] You're, you're finding a way. 

[00:17:30] Joann: [00:17:30] We're finding a way to be together.

David: [00:17:35] Thanks to her community. Seven years after arthritis put her in a wheelchair. Joann now walks three miles nearly every morning. 

Joann: [00:17:44] There're gonna always be obstacles in your way. Always. And they might get harder each time. But you grow. And as you grow, so does your spirit. [00:18:00] And it helps you to overcome. So, we just wait for the next one. And be ready to challenge it.

Can't give up. 

David: [00:18:12] And she looks forward to the day when they can dip, slide, and twist together once more. 

Joann: [00:18:18] I think we can overcome anything because we're together and we respect and love each other. And for that reason, we can face any challenges. [00:18:30] So we will be stronger and better when we get back.

Jakob: [00:18:38] All right. We're going to check in with our neighbors right after this short break.

Cariad: [00:18:47] Alright, welcome back. So what's new this week? 

Jakob: [00:18:57] You know, two things. Before I [00:19:00] answer that, I just want to say, I think Nashville could use some good press right now.

Cariad: [00:19:04] Oh boy.

Jakob: [00:19:04] Like our COVID response and policing issues and our, like, tourism industry downtown refusing to enforce any rules. It just doesn't play well in the news cycle. So if you're listening to this and you are in Nashville, could you make some good news happen so that we can outweigh the bad press?

Uh, and to answer your question, this week I've been reading a lot of Wendell Berry.

Cariad: [00:19:26] Ah!

Jakob: [00:19:26] Uh, his book of essays: What Are People For? Which [00:19:30] makes me think, what are people for?

Cariad: [00:19:32] Yeah, I don't know.

Jakob: [00:19:34] It's really good. I highly recommend it. If you don't know Wendell Berry...

Cariad: [00:19:37] I don't know Wendell Berry.

Jakob: [00:19:38] ...he's a farmer, poet, essayist, novelist, lives in Kentucky and does not own a computer, but is more prolific than you or I will ever be.

Cariad: [00:19:45] Yeah.

Jakob: [00:19:46] A good reminder that progress doesn't always mean better. It just, it's got me slowing down thinking about the land I live on and trying to adjust my relationship to technology and my fellow neighbors.

All good things. I think. Oh, [00:20:00] what about you? What's happening this week? 

Cariad: [00:20:01] What is happening this week? That is a good question. Uh, I don't know, Jakob. I am just living that quarantine life. Um, well, it is about to be my birthday.

Jakob: [00:20:14] Oh!

Cariad: [00:20:14] By the time this episode airs, it will be my birthday.

Jakob: [00:20:17] Happy Birthday.

Cariad: [00:20:18] Um, and so, John is, as I speak, panic-baking me a birthday cake in the other room.

Jakob: [00:20:27] Hmm. Sounds like him.

Cariad: [00:20:27] And the last time I walked into the [00:20:30] kitchen, he told me to go away and leave him alone. So that's the most exciting thing that's, that's happened all week, but I will, I will keep you posted if things change. 

Jakob: [00:20:41] Well, happy birthday Cariad. 

Cariad: [00:20:42] Aw, well, thank you very much.

Jakob: [00:20:45] Of course. So let's now check in on our neighbors and see how they're doing. 

Cariad: [00:20:49] Yes. So we got a couple calls and we're going to play one from Diane in California, and a repeat caller, Hadassa, from right here in Nashville, Tennessee. 

[00:21:00] Dianne: [00:21:00] Hi, uh, thank you so much for the podcast. It's really special. I'm Diane. I'm calling from Northern California.

And I just wanted to share that I went to the post office today and I witnessed something really cool. I know postal employees have a bad rap and I wanted to share something positive.

Um, there was a woman who was hard of hearing and, with a mask, having a really hard time [00:21:30] with getting her needs met with another postal clerk because, uh, she needs to read lips.

Yeah, the first postal person, uh, was from another country and there was a language difficulty, and the frustration was getting louder and more intense, both with the customer and with the clerk. And there were a few of us, a couple people that were kind and tried to help her. She was worried that the police were going to be called.

So we finally got her to another clerk [00:22:00] who was calm, kind, compassionate, and he helped, with the couple of us, bring her way down. We had to keep reminding her to put her mask over her nose, and it kept slipping. And keep our distance. But with his kindness and his calmness, he helped make her be heard and understood. And what could have been a really serious visit to the police, or from the police, ended up being, um, a [00:22:30] very sweet human experience.

So I wanted to share that. Thank you. Thanks for all you do. Bye bye. 

Hadassa: [00:22:38] Hello, this is Hadassah from Nashville, Tennessee. I recently made a reconnection to several things. I grew up with horses and went through a lot of trauma in my childhood and horses were an incredibly safe and healing place for me. I also briefly pursued a degree in [00:23:00] counseling and recently made a connection with a therapeutic horse farm in Nashville who works with veterans who have PTSD and other trauma from their experiences.

And I have been able to bring all of my worlds together in supporting what they do, as well as experiencing the benefits of working with horses for myself. And I've also been able to take my children, who went through the tornado in Nashville in March and have been healing [00:23:30] from their own PTSD. And seeing all of these roads just kind of combine in one beautiful place, and being outdoors in nature with incredible animals and incredible people has just been an absolute golden light in the midst of so much disruption and so much chaos and so much blech that has been our life for the last five months. Very, very grateful. 

Jakob: [00:23:58] Man. I love horses.

[00:24:00] Cariad: [00:24:00] What's not to love. I mean, horses and square dances forever. You just can't go wrong. 

Jakob: [00:24:06] Horses and square dances forever. If you'd like to contribute your voice to the show, record a voice memo of yourself and send it to

Cariad: [00:24:18] This week, just call in and tell us something that you love right now.

It's might be Monty Don, the amazing British gardener who is a national treasure. And if you don't know him, you should Google [00:24:30] him immediately and watch everything he's done. He's wonderful. It could be horses. It could be square dances. It could be long walks on the beach. 

Jakob: [00:24:42] If you love it, we want to hear about it.

Cariad: [00:24:43] Yes, we do. 

Jakob: [00:24:44] Thanks to the members of the neighborhood on Patreon. If you want to support the show and the fine work of telling stories about connecting to the humans around you, throw us a few bucks at 

Cariad: [00:24:56] You can join our kind, intelligent, and thoughtful community [00:25:00] there, as well as get a few extra things.

I mean, why not? 

Jakob: [00:25:04] That's what I'm saying.

Cariad: [00:25:09] Our sonic logo is from Dallas Taylor and Defacto Sound. Check out his podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz. Music is by The Blue Dot Sessions and this song is by Dan Burns. Neighbors is hosted and produced by me. 

Jakob: [00:25:23] And me. Leave us a rating in Apple Podcasts so we can see if it really has any freaking effect. [00:25:30] I'm Jakob Lewis. 

Cariad: [00:25:31] And I'm Cariad Harmon.

And we're reminding you to get to know your neighbors.

Jakob: [00:25:35] get to know your neighbors. You know, Cariad, winter is just around the corner and, uh, it'll go from hot to getting to know your neigh-burrrs. 

Cariad: [00:25:46] Okay. Bye.

Neighbors is a production of Great Feeling Studios. [00:26:00]