Mother, grandmother, and great grandmother Jean Cain teaches line dancing all around Memphis. In fact, she even has her own YouTube channel.
She laughs, “When I started teaching in 2008, there weren’t videos explaining how the steps were done, so I created some to send to my students.”
A retired elementary school teacher, Jean graduated from Memphis State after overcoming several health problems that delayed her college enrollment.
“I didn’t go to college until I was in my 30s, and then I went part-time until my senior year when I was awarded a Philanthropical Educational Organization (PEO) Scholarship. That not only paid for my senior year but also for my masters,” she says.
Jean’s career in education has included creativity and performance––particularly during the summers when she wrote plays and skits and worked at the Fine Arts Camp at the Orpheum.
Although dance wasn’t part of her professional career, it was something she had always enjoyed. She became a cheerleader in her teens and a majorette in high school. Back then, she also enjoyed the Bop and other popular social dances of the day. Line dancing came to her later in life serendipitously.
“Some girlfriends suggested I try a line dance class at the Southaven Senior Center,” she says. “After that first class, I thought, ‘This is what I’m going to spend the rest of my retirement doing!’” After two years of study, she was asked to teach.
Jean gets plenty of exercise every week teaching at three different facilities, choreographing, social dancing, and taking her groups to perform in public.
“My classes all have the same agenda,” she says. “The first hour is for beginners. The second is for the grow group, and the third hour is more advanced. Some students stay the entire time because they want a long workout, while some spend only an hour. For those three hours, I’m constantly moving and talking. It’s low impact, sort of like a marching band.”
In addition to being great exercise, line dancing is a good mental break. “You can’t think about your troubles and dance. You have to leave your problems at the door.”
One of her favorite things about line dancing is that it doesn’t require any special clothing or equipment. Just no flip-flops or open-backed shoes.
She chuckles, ”You can hear a song anywhere, even at the store. If you know a routine for it, you just have to do the dance. If you’re shopping with other line dancers, all of you will find yourselves dancing down the aisle.”
Just like in line dancing, there’s structure in Jean’s diet. She eats a small packet of oatmeal with banana; strawberries; blueberries; a drop of honey; and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts.
If she eats lunch out, she orders a large salad with grilled chicken, fruit, and nuts. Dinner, for Jean, is a protein shake with an orange, a few mixed nuts, and a date, which she enjoys no later than 6 pm.
“My downfall is desserts,” she confesses. “I love them, so I have to watch how often I eat them. I don’t drink soft drinks. I drink a lot of water, coconut water, and ginger tea.”
Once a month, she indulges in a cheat meal in the form of a good old-fashioned breakfast.
A lifelong Baptist, Jean’s strength and inspiration are rooted in faith. Because of this, she views her dance instruction through the lens of helping people. One of her most meaningful areas of focus is helping women who have lost their husbands.
“It’s hard for a woman to get out once she’s alone. I have made a point to create a dynamic in my class that makes it a support group. My classes give these women an easier way to find a new life and a new place to belong.”
With this aim in mind, she facilitates a friendship circle at the end of each first class. “During that time, we make announcements and take prayer requests,” she says. “Though it’s not an overtly religious thing and we never pray in class, we do offer the opportunity to pray for each other if asked.” Humor is also a big part of their friendship too.
Jean is a firm believer that some life events are too solid to be a random coincidence. Recently, a member of the organization that paid for her college years ago showed up in one of her classes. Because of that, Jean found a way to donate to that same scholarship fund. “It makes me happy to know that it has come full circle now that I’ve given back to those who gave to me at a time of need.”
When asked for her final words of advice, Jean doesn’t hesitate: “Keep moving as long as you can stay active, and think about what advice you’re going to pass on to your family members. Life is worth living, and live it to its fullest.”
By Caroline Sposto
Photo by Taylor Tartera