Dancing gives senior rhythm for life

By Anthony Welch

There’s no slowing down for John Mazzella, an avid dancer and former marathon runner, who looks forward to weekly dance events.

Mazzella turns 92 on March 28.

The former U.S. Air Force weather forecaster hosts a singles table at the VFW Post 4051’s weekly dances. The post was like a second home to Mazzella and his wife Jenny.

“We volunteered in the kitchen,” he said. “We cooked hundreds of meals as volunteers, and did it gladly.”

But dancing was their true love. The couple met in 1947 while Mazzella was stationed in Berlin, Germany.

“My wife and I enjoyed ballroom dancing. We loved to jitterbug. We loved to poco waltz,” Mazzella added. “We got married in 1950. We were married 63 years.”

Jenny passed away four years ago due to complications related to Alzheimer’s.

“She was full of life, just like me … very outgoing,” Mazzella said fighting back tears. “It’s a very disheartening disease. She would look at me, and she would smile. Then she would say, ‘Where does your wife live?’”

Mazzella continues to dance not only as a tribute to his late wife, but because he loves seeing the joy it brings others. The singles table at the VFW is hosted at the very table he and his wife sat at for years. The VFW commander and board were gung ho on the idea, when Mazzella presented it to them, he said. All are welcome no matter what level of dancing.

“I dance with everyone who shows up. I can take a woman, and I’ve done it many times, like on a rhumba … I use a lot of voice and pressure to help guide them,” Mazzella said. “Women like that, especially if I get someone who’s new to me and I’m new to them. I consider myself a rhythm dancer. I’ll dance to music in no time at all. I listen to all the instruments that are being played when we’re dancing. You can sense what’s coming.”

Mazzella’s favorite dance is the jitterbug.

“Glen Miller is the Bible of all jitterbugs and foxtrots,” he said. “I first started dancing at age 12. I had a roly poly aunt that was all of 4 feet tall. We did a polka. I had a brother and his wife, oh, could they jitterbug. I said, ‘Oh, I want to do that when I grow up.’”

Mazzella served in the Air Force from 1945 to 1975. He was stationed in Duluth, Minn.; Rome, New York and spent 16 years in Germany.

“I had a lot of good assignments. I briefed a lot of pilots. They all had to get their weather,” Mazzella said.

When he retired from the Air Force, Mazzella became a stock broker. He did that for five years, but said, “I didn’t like what I was seeing among some of the brokers and gave that up.”

He transitioned into becoming a master gardener and worked at a nursery for two years.

“I loved it, but I was getting too much sun,” Mazzella said. “I have a love of seafood, and a friend of mine mentioned he could get me a job working in the seafood department at King Soopers. I did that for two years.”

At age of 37, Mazzella said that’s when his life really changed.

“I was a heavy smoker. The reason I quit cold turkey was the surgeon general was going to come out in 1946 and tell us how bad smoking was,” Mazzella said. “I beat him to it. Dec. 22, 1963 I quit.”

It was also then that Mazzella started an exercise regimen. He started out slowing, walking just a few blocks at a time before progressing to seven or eight blocks. Then he started jogging.

“Next thing you know, I’m a marathon runner,” Mazzella said.

He went on to earn 75 medals from numerous running events he took part in, many in Germany. He has also run up Pikes Peak a handful of times, three of which were when he was past the age of 50.

“First time I went up, I almost died,” Mazzella laughs. “Swore I’d never do it again.”

Mazzella’s final run down Pikes Peak ended his running career. He, unfortunately, blew out his quadriceps muscles. However, he still continues a hybrid workout of sorts at home. Mazzella uses elastic bands to work out his shoulders and arms. He put his favorite rocking chair to use to work out his legs and throws in a few light-weighted dumbbells. Of course, the dancing also helps.

“That’s why I dance like I do,” he added. “I want to stay tuned up.

Mazzella was sidelined with his lungs hurting back in November and had to go to the hospital. Then in January, he had a kidney stone attack. But it wasn’t long before he was back at it dancing. Besides the VFW gathering, Mazzella frequents the International Dance Club gatherings weekly and attends the Sunday Colorado Springs Jazz Club events as well. In the summer months, you might find him taking part in the drum circle at Garden of the Gods.

Once he was retired, Mazzella logged 3,500 hours on the phone volunteering for Crime Stoppers. He also pitched in for a few years with Silver Key Meals on Wheels.

“I’m a giver. I have a passion to give,” he said.

Mazzella loves showing off photo after photo of he and Jenny decked out in a variety of costumes – some goofier than others – when they’d attend VFW dances.

“I miss her very much,“ Mazzella said, as a few tears run down his face. “But life goes on.”

Dancing and the fact that Mazzella likes to keep Christmas decorations out, helps cheer him up.

“Since I haven’t got a lot of time left in this world, it’s Christmas every day,” he said.

To see a video of John Mazzella dancing the waltz while on a stroll near Seven Falls, click here.


Photos courtesy of John Mazzella

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