A fortnightly dance in Levin brings the boogie to a sector of society that doesn't get out that much. For some special souls alive on the dance floor, it's the highlight of their social calendar and a rare chance to let loose. But the popular event is in danger, Paul Williams reports..
The music blares out with deep bass. The dance floor is ablaze with people having fun, dancing as if nobody is watching, waiting for a bit in the song they all know. Then the chorus drops, and the Levin Senior Citizens Hall erupts.
"It's fun to stay at the whyyyy...emmm..ceee...aye!"
Those who know the actions to the dance anthem let loose. Others sing along. Everyone has their own way of expressing themselves and enjoying themselves.
Fiona dances with her sunglasses on. Good friends Richard and Lorraine share a dance before sitting down and catching up with each other. People in wheelchairs dance with their caregivers.
The vibe in the hall is infectious. It was one of the more quiet nights though, apparently. Sometimes there can be as many as 150 people on the floor, especially during the warmer months.
Many at the dance have known each other since childhood and are former residents of the now disbanded Kimberley Hospital care facility in Levin. One couple found love and married after meeting years ago at the dance, and are still happily wed.
The event is run by Horowhenua Stairways, a non-profit organisation based in Levin.
The group was founded in 1986, recognising a gap in the social calendar for those with special needs or disabilities.
Parents and caregivers of those on the dance floor either join in or relax with a cup of tea or coffee on long chairs around the edge of the hall.
The Stairways committee consists of five women - Heather Mack, Wendy Whiting, Zelda Beckett, Suzanne Hunt and Margaret Cadman - all of whom admit they aren't getting any younger, and are concerned about the future.
President Margaret Cadman says the dance is for anybody with a disability and plays an important part in their social well-being.
"It is the only meeting place that they have."
It also acts as a respite for caregivers and parents. Once the music stops and the fun dies down, everyone says goodbye and goes home to bed, she says.
Such is the need and popularity of the event it attracts people from Whanganui, Palmerston North and Feilding and Paraparaumu, in the absence of similar social functions in those areas.
As well as the DJ, and a juke box supplied by Paul and Ebony King at Soundz Centre in Levin, they have live bands like Stampede, who play every year free of charge, and who are always the headline act at the end-of-year dance.
Stampede catches the tone right and last year invited dancers on stage to perform a haka. Frontman Boyd Cornell, who was a former employee at Kimberley Hospital, says the Stairways gig is a highlight and every band member is on board.
"We do it for the love. We enjoy doing it and bring along our friends and family and enjoy helping out," he said.
"You get attached to these kids."
Richard Walburn from Horowhenua Panel and Paint and a band called Rubber Band were invited to play one night. With his electric guitar he brought a brand of heavy rock and punk that went down well.
"I turned it up loud and they were dancing from the first song which was great ... I thoroughly enjoyed it too," he says.
DJ Greg Cottle from Lazer Soundz has played music at the dance since the early days. He is paid to be there, but it's a gig he enjoys and his bill reflects that.
"I haven't put up my price in 10 years," he says.
"They really know how to get down and have a good time. I have to keep a really good beat though. You soon find out what songs work and what don't."
The event has thrived over the years only because of the hard-working volunteers.
Heather Mack, who helps out in the kitchen, says her daughter Diane has come to the dance since the early days.
"It's absolutely marvellous. I can see how they enjoy it and I think we are the only one in New Zealand," she says.
Diane, 54, was hit by a car at a pedestrian crossing in England when on overseas holiday with a friend when she was just 19 years old.
She had stopped at the kerb, but a van driver had stopped and motioned to her that it was safe to cross. Then a car pulled out from behind the van, hitting her. She hit her head on the road and was rushed to hospital.
By the time the severity of her injuries were apparent, her head began to swell as the result of a massive brain bleed. Lucky to survive, she would spend the next three months in hospital.
But because Heather is now 83 years old, her daughter lives in Palmerston North at Ryder-Cheshire House and comes home once a fortnight to attend the Levin dance. Diane says she enjoys her music and coming to the dance.
Like any parent, Heather said it would be comforting to know that events like Stairways could continue long into the future.
"We are all getting older, that's the thing. If something happens to me ..." she said.
"It's peace of mind."
Zelda Beckett, 95, was one of the original committee members at Horowhenua Stairways with the events founder, the late Margaret Haworth, and she still comes along to events.
Committee member Suzanne Hunt began attending the event after bringing her brother Murray along. Now aged 59, Murray is a huge help to the committee behind the scenes and helps to set up the hall before each dance.
Hunt says it's rewarding to be involved, but the dance needs work behind the scenes if it is to survive.
Due to a shortage in volunteers and new blood for the committee, the future is looking bleak. The organisation is in dire need of new volunteers to ensure the survival of the dance.
"If we can't get more volunteers we have no option but to fold," she says.
"And it will be the clients that miss out and for some clients this is the only activity in which they take part in the community."
The committee meets every six weeks to organise fundraising activities, theme nights, catering and the booking of live entertainment, and to balance the books.
The dance is held every fortnight at Levin Senior Citizens Hall in Cambridge St. The doors to the dance floor open at 7pm and the music starts winding down just before 9.30pm.
With the dance floor swept, there's one last cup of tea after dishes in the kitchen are done. A flick the lights signals the end of another good night out.