Twinkle toes Jim

Jim McManus (99) has attracted global media attention at the world’s largest tango competition in Argentina.

Twinkle toes Jim McManus attracted global media attention throughout the past week as he competed at the world’s largest tango competition in Argentina.Dressed in a white jacket, black trousers and tie, the 99-year-old wowed audience members as he glided across the dancefloor at the Usina del Arte venue in Buenos Aires during the globally renowned Tango Buenos Aires Festival.The 2019 edition of the world championships features 744 couples from 36 countries.Every August, thousands of dancers and fans of the music converge on the Argentine capital, which is the birthplace of tango, for the two-week extravaganza.Jim received the biggest round of applause following his performance with professional dancer Lucia Seva who is married to an Irishman and living in Argentina.

The festival committee are set to honour Jim in front of thousands of spectators, and he is due to be honoured at an event at the Irish Embassy in Argentina this week.Jim, who danced various rounds of the competition, is believed to be oldest person to compete in the famed event – which could see him entering the Guinness World Records.He is an active member of ‘Waterford Tango’ which promotes Argentine Tango in Waterford and the South-East and is well-known to many in the locality.His story was first reported in The Munster Express in 2016 when the then 96-year-old discussed his love for dancing, and particularly tango.He has danced in many different countries throughout his life but has always wanted to dance the tango in its birthplace – Argentina.

Jim dancing during the Tango Buenos Aires Festival with his dance partner Lucia.

Jim dancing during the Tango Buenos Aires Festival with his dance partner Lucia.

Bound for Buenos Aires

In recognition of his 100th birthday, his good friends at ‘Waterford Tango’ aimed to ensure that this dream would become a reality and embarked on a fundraising campaign.The efforts to send Jim on his way were also featured in this newspaper back in January when assistant teacher with ‘Waterford Tango’ Tara Bohan outlined how the initial idea came about.“We were driving to Wexford one night and Jim was telling us stories about being in the war and all the countries he had been in. He said one of the places that he hasn’t been to is Argentina,” she explained.

Tara approached dance teacher with ‘Waterford Tango’ Hernán and the idea of helping Jim achieve his dream of tango dancing in Buenos Aires for his 100th birthday quickly gathered pace.“Everyone thought it was a great idea,” said Tara.Fundraisers were organised and donations flooded in through the dedicated GoFundMe fundraising page.A total of €2,500 was raised to send Jim on his way.The funds raised paid for return flights to Argentina; airport transfers; insurance; all-inclusive accommodation; entry to nightly milongas (dances); and spending money so that Jim can enjoy the trip without any money worries.

Although Jim’s 100th birthday won’t occur until next January, the trip was planned for August to coincide with specific tango events and in order to avoid the extreme heat of the Argentinian summer in January.Tara and Hernán have also travelled to Argentina well as other dancers from throughout the country who are all paying their own way.Before his trip to the birthplace of tango, Jim had not been on a plane for many years but, undeterred, he made the long journey to the South American country.

Superstar Jim

Tara says Jim has become a “superstar” in Argentina and has been interviewed on live TV and by countless reporters from various media ogranisations.“Professional organisers and teachers are inviting us to their events, and everyone is stopping for photos with him. The reaction has been amazing,” she said.“I never expected or realised that it would take off like it has. I’m absolutely thrilled that Jim is being honoured because he is such an inspiration. We’re so proud of him”His exploits have been reported on in media outlets in countries worldwide, including Ecuador, Singapore, China, Thailand, South Africa, Germany, France, the UK, Greece, Hungary, and both Argentina and Ireland.Jim has also reconnected with a relative within the past week who he presumed had passed away.He hadn’t seen or spoken to his cousin Frank Roddy since 1940. They lost contact during the War and Jim presumed Frank had died.

Now, via Facebook, Jim hopes that the duo can meet face to face after his return from Argentina.Jim has also visited an English school in Argentina and Tara says the schoolchildren were overjoyed to hear his stories.“He sat for hours talking to them and they absorbed his stories about the War and navy,” she explained.“They couldn’t believe he was in WWII and his father was in WWI.”Not one to rest on his laurels, Jim is now learning Spanish and plans to return to Argentina next year to compete again.

Man of many talents

Born in Scotland, Jim served in the British Army for seven years from the ages of 19 to 26.He then joined the Merchant Navy for six and a half years.He and his wife lived in various areas of the UK, including Wales where their children were born.Later on, Jim spent four years working in electronics with the American University in Beirut.“I had been a radio officer in the Merchant Navy so I had learned quite a lot about radio, radar and electronics in general,” he explained.His father’s family hailed from Enniskillen in County Fermanagh so Jim was familiar with Ireland.He regularly travelled over on the ferry and enjoyed trips throughout the entire country.Jim eventually decided to move to Waterford and arrived here in January 1994.Living in Slieverue, he leads an incredibly active lifestyle which sees him participating in ballroom and tango dancing on numerous occasions each week.He dances for an average of around two and a half hours at a time but proudly proclaims that he can keep going for up to four hours!“You’ve got to be quite fit to keep at it!” he said.

During a typical week he enjoys ballroom dancing at the Rhu Glenn in Slieverue, the Brandon House Hotel in New Ross, the Talbot Hotel in Wexford as well as the gatherings organised by ‘Waterford Tango’ at Treacy’s Hotel in Waterford.Although he had been participating in ballroom dancing long before moving to Ireland, he only took up tango after seeing a performance at Garter Lane in 2002.“I always loved tango music, but this show really got me hooked on it,” he said.“With tango, you feel more attached. You’re more connected to your partner than with any other type of dance. You’re thinking about your partner all the time and concentrating on what they will do next. You have to listen carefully to the music and the man has to lead the way, but he also has to know what the lady will do next so that he can guide her into that position.”In his quest to promote the dance, he has often participated in tango demonstrations.

Jim received a rapturous round of applause from fellow participants and audience members.

Jim received a rapturous round of applause from fellow participants and audience members.

Appeal of tango

The inclusive nature of tango is something which certainly appears to be part of its enormous appeal.Members of ‘Waterford Tango’ are from various backgrounds and all age groups are well represented.“The music and movements of tango appeal to people,” explained Jim.He says tango is not just a dance but “a way of life” and adds that he particularly enjoys the great camaraderie amongst participants.As well as enjoying the dancing, Jim thoroughly enjoys the social aspect associated with being involved with the group.“The people are very friendly and outgoing and we’re all good friends. Everyone’s always happy and we all have a laugh,” he said.Tara praised Jim and his positive attitude and describes him as an “ambassador” for tango, adding that he is “pivotal” to tango in Ireland.“Jim is very special. Everyone knows him,” she said.

“He is an inspiration to our community and others around the country. His outlook is positive, his mind is fresh, he has a cracking sense of humour and he is an advocate for healthy eating, exercise and dancing. Jim keeps surprising people.”‘Waterford Tango’ dancers have participated in different public performances, including outside the Bishop’s Palace and at the Tramore Promenade Festival.Dancers from ‘Waterford Tango’ also regularly travel to events throughout the country.Jim would love to see more men getting involved with ‘Waterford Tango’ and with dancing in general.“We always have more women than men – that’s a problem with both tango and ballroom dancing,” he commented.“Men should wake up! Women are more enthusiastic. They will come in and dance with each other if they don’t have a male partner. When I was dancing in England, women were scarce and there were always too many men. I think the Irish men are more interested in sport.”Tara is also disappointed at the reluctance of some men to get involved.“It’s a shame because it’s a great way to meet people and become part of the community,” she said.However, both Tara and Jim hope that the ongoing popularity of television programmes such as ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and ‘Dancing with the Stars’ will continue to boost interest in all forms of dancing.

A healthy lifestyle

Jim attributes his longevity to leading such an active lifestyle.“It’s a big help if you keep active. I’ve always been active. Couch potatoes are going to have a short life,” he said.“Dancing gives you a purpose in life. It’s an enjoyable way of getting exercise. You’re keeping yourself fit and active. A lot of men think that when they retire from work they have to go home, read the paper and watch television. That’s a downward slide into oblivion. You’ve got to get out, socialise and enjoy life.”He says eating the right food is also very important.“There is definitely something in that saying ‘you are what you eat’,” he said.Jim explained that his diet consists of plenty of fruit and vegetables and says nuts are also very important.He begins each morning with organic porridge oats, adding chopped Brazil nuts, walnuts, cranberries and pumpkin seeds.He did drink alcohol for a while when he was in the army and also tried smoking but said the latter certainly didn’t agree with him.With Jim as an ambassador, the benefits of being involved with ‘Waterford Tango’ are certainly clear to see.The admirable efforts of Jim’s ‘Waterford Tango’ friends perfectly illustrate the wonderful sense of camaraderie which exists within this incredible group.‘Waterford Tango’ classes are held on Tuesdays at Treacy’s Hotel all year round, with beginners dancing from 7pm – 8.30pm and intermediate/advanced dancers strutting their stuff from 9pm – 10.30pm.

All involved with the group would love to see new members getting involved.

With Jim as their poster boy, the benefits are clear to see!

For more information on ‘Waterford Tango’ visit their Facebook page, email waterfordtango1@gmail.

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