Wearing a crisp white shirt, dress pants, suspenders, and a big smile, Richard Zimmerman shimmies across the dance floor at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio on a Wednesday night. He suddenly twirls his unsuspecting novice partner, showboating for his audience.

“He does some things that aren’t part of the curriculum, but he’s 90 years old,” explains Barbara Leininger, owner of the studio, after halfheartedly admonishing him. “If you’re out dancing and have that joy and happiness, you can do whatever you want at that age.”

Zimmerman, standing behind her, breaks into a Viennese waltz, his hand over his mouth, laughing.

Born in Chicago in 1922, Zimmerman served in the Navy during the Second World War and then earned a business degree from Indiana University. He got married and settled in Bloomington in 1949 and worked for the IU Office of the Registrar for 30 years before retiring.

He first learned to dance at church in 1938, he remembers, danced at USOs while in the Navy, taught his college pals how to “cut the rug,” then danced his way around the world as a guest on cruise ships.

“I’ve been dancing for seventy years in other countries,” he says. “I told my wife I’d show her the world and I did! One time, we did the jitterbug in Hong Kong and we were the only ones dancing! The band got such a kick out of it, they gave us a standing ovation!”

Seeking friendship and a new place to dance after his wife’s recent passing, this father of three, grandfather of three, and great-grandfather of seven enrolled in his first official dance class at Arthur Murray, attending four times a week for waltz, swing, foxtrot, and rumba lessons.

“I meet a lot of girls here, and I know how to make every one of them smile,” he says. “Want to know how?” he whispers. “All I have to do is twirl them—three twirls is a guaranteed smile.”


Be sure to check out Richard Zimmerman’s dance moves in this video by Shannon Zahnle.