Tuesday, January 07, 2020

JIM McManus, international tango dancer and distinguished gentleman celebrated his 100th birthday in the Rhu Glenn hotel on Sunday. From 3pm onwards, couples wheeled around the dancefloor, Latin rhythms filling the air. An advertisement for health and vitality at 100, Jim never took a break from dancing to sit. Dressed in white chinos, a black shirt and a white tie, Jim was every inch the dapper gentlemen, his hips swaying in time to the music.

Originally from Paisley, Scotland, and born to Irish parents, Jim did not embark on his tango career until 2002 with Waterford Tango and last year saw him dance his way to Argentina to compete in the World Tango Championships at the age of 99.

“I felt it was a good occasion to get together. Over the last couple of years, I said I’m going to have a great big party when I turn 100.” True to his word, Jim did have a great big party, and people travelled from Wexford, Dublin, Cork, Belfast and as far afield as New York to share in the celebrations for Jim’s milestone birthday.

The dancing bug is definitely in the family, as Jim’s daughter attends Declan Roche’s classes in Cobh, County Cork. She attended the celebrations with her children, adding a special quality to the day and the evening.

“Dancing lifts your spirits completely. It’s not just the dancing, it’s the music as well, it gets into your skin, under your skin. You need the kind of music that stirs your soul.” Jim pointed out a lady on the dancefloor who, he informed me, had been experiencing ill-health of late. The lady in question was moving across the dancefloor in time to the music, lending a credibility to Jim’s claims of the revitalising properties of dance and music.

Jim could easily be mistaken for a man some thirty years younger, if not more. “Dancing is a big help,” he said, “You’re exercising your whole body. As well as that, your mind and your brain are getting exercise. I think it’s a matter of avoiding junk food, don’t smoke, don’t drink too much alcohol, only tiny amounts. Chuck it altogether if you can.”

Jim holds up a pint glass of water to show the fuel on which he is running on that evening. “There is a spring at the end of the carpark where fresh water comes from.” That, he tells me, is all he needs to sustain him.

Jim was presented with a gift of newspapers spanning his 100 years. The front pages highlighted the periods of historical significance through which he lived and the significant events which served to shape his life. Against the backdrop of Jim’s childhood was the sinking of the Titanic, this was followed by WWII, of which Jim was a Veteran, and the supremely significant D-Day. These newspapers were presented to Jim to reflect an ever changing world, one which he has had a tremendous impact on.

It was remarked upon several times throughout the evening that most people don’t know enough people in their lifetime to fill a venue the size of the function room in the Rhu Glenn, especially if they are living in a country to which they are not native. Jim has effectively been adopted by the Waterford people because the function room was packed to capacity with well-wishers, friends and members of the dancing community.

Jim’s tango teacher, Argentinian Hernán Catvin who provided the music on the night spoke to the substantial gathering and thanked them for attending the event. “We are friends and we are family. We are celebrating Jim’s birthday by joining together in celebration of his passion-dancing.”

A portrait of a well-respected, disciplined and clean-living man emerged from Sunday’s celebration, strengthened by the extraordinary historical backdrop of his life. If the group of people in attendance was a unit of measure for gauging success, Jim’s past 100 years have been a tremendous success indeed.

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