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December 6, 2007 – Vol. 2 • No. 4
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At 93 — A dandy dancer

If anyone should know about health, it’s Osceola B. Nathan.

Last month, she celebrated her 93rd birthday, and with the exception of a few little health problems, she is still strong enough to teach line dancing on a regular basis.

Nathan is not your typical senior citizen. She was in her sixties when she picked up belly dancing.

It was a surprise, then, when she noticed something strange after returning home from Sunday church services a few years back. It was “a twinge in the corner of my mouth,” she said.

Startled, she got up to look in a mirror and said she “started walking sideways.”

“I knew something was wrong,” Nathan said. “I don’t walk sideways.”

As she later learned, that strange twinge was the onset of a minor stroke. But on that day, Nathan didn’t appear too stressed.

She had called her doctor and explained her symptoms. The doctor told her to immediately get to a hospital. Nathan agreed but explained that she would take the subway.

Flabbergasted, Nathan’s doctor advised that an emergency ambulance was soon to be dispatched.

Nathan compromised by catching a cab, arriving at the hospital 20 minutes later. She was admitted for the night and discharged the next day.

So much for the weak and feebled nonagenarians in this modern medical era.

Nathan attributes her longevity in part to one simple thing — hard work.

The oldest of eight children, she has worked most of her life. At an early age she and her father were the breadwinners in the family.

She has also had great habits. She never drank alcohol. She tried smoking only once. She was 21 years old, and told her father that she thought smoking was glamorous. Her father gave her a cigarette. She took one puff and choked. She never smoked again.

She also has had the benefits of a Southern diet. She grew up in Virginia. “People down there ate healthy,” she explained. “Everyone had a garden.”

Eating healthy foods is deeply rooted — she still dines on lots of fruits and vegetables. She has cut back on salt and fat and eats a banana every day. She has a special fondness for berries — blueberries and raspberries, in particular.

Nathan is even particular about the milk she drinks. She drank whole milk for most of her life but switched to 1 percent, mixing that with dry milk to reduce the fat content even further.

Regular exercise has been an integral part of Nathan’s life.

It started by happenstance.

She said that she lived a stressful life. Her husband, now deceased, was a minister and they traveled with their two children across the country, starting small parishes wherever they went. The constant moving caused a lot of upheaval for the couple and two children.

She needed an outlet to reduce the stress.

She found one shortly after moving to Boston about 30 years ago. She started belly dancing. She loved it.

She joined a group of belly dancers and they performed all over the city, including at Boston’s annual First Night celebration on New Year’s Eve.

And then came line dancing. She loved that just as much, even taking belly and line dancing classes back to back.

Eventually, she was asked to teach line dancing. She started at Kenmore Abbey, a low-income housing center for seniors and mentally disabled. She taught there for two years and then started classes at the Harriet Tubman House. But when the classes got too small because of illnesses or deaths of the students, she moved to Freedom House, and works with the Roxbury Goldenaires.

For a time, she worked at Symphony Plaza, teaching dance to Russians, none of whom spoke English. She said their language skills didn’t matter; they still ended up being good students.

At just under 5 feet tall, Nathan is a modern day miracle. She does have hypertension and high cholesterol, but is taking medication for those chronic illnesses.

Other than a touch of arthritis in her hands and shoulders — the result of a lot of sewing and needlepoint over the years, she thinks — she is doing just dandy.

Her biggest problem, she says, is with her medicines — she has already been hospitalized three times due to over-medication. But she is doing much better now.

Nathan has always had an independent streak in her.
She reads everything carefully and said she knows what drugs she’s on and why. She asks lots of questions.

“Sometimes the doctors don’t always want to listen or take the time to answer my questions,” she said. “I think it might be because they think that I am old.”

Shame on them.

Anyone who knows Osceola B. Nathan knows what she really is — a dancer.

Osceola B. Nathan
Osceola B. Nathan, 93, keeps herself healthy by eating right and line dancing.

Osceola B. Nathan
Osceola B. Nathan kicks up her heels while leading her group of line dancers.

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