Marguerite Murtagh is a bundle of energy framed in the delicate body of a ballerina. This diminutive octogenarian dancer with a distinctively Irish surname makes it quickly known that she choreographs her healthy aging journey one step at a time.
“Healthy aging requires a great attitude,” Murtagh says, her blue eyes sparkling. “You need to let go of any negative attitudes and be open and welcoming to new people and new ideas. That’s my philosophy for life.”
As we chat over coffee in a vintage-themed eatery, 84-year-old Murtagh rattles off the various dance styles she enjoys the most: tap, jazz, ballet and hip-hop top the list.
From dance classes to rehearsals to performances, Murtagh spends several hours a week fine-tuning her dance moves. She also loves working out to Jane Fonda videos, walking, and dancing with her husband of 65 years, Patrick Murtagh. She describes Patrick as her rock-solid supporter in life. “He is my hero.”
The art of dance feeds this native New Yorker’s joy for life and supports her continuous quest for movement. Because of this, she seeks out a dance sisterhood of other women who share her passion.
On this day, she is rehearsing for an upcoming jazz dance performance at a local senior center, popping, locking and moving across the floor to choreographed moves with a dozen other dancers.
Murtagh and several other members of her class are a part of the famed Phoenix Suns Golden Grannies dance squad. Decked out in sparkling costumes, these ladies can bust a move with the best of them.
“I just love every moment of the music and the moves,” Murtagh beams. “I’ve been doing it since I was a young girl, and I never lost my love for it.”
Murtagh developed dance fever in elementary school when her eyes were opened to the performing arts. “There was a young girl dancing ballet, and I remember she was so beautiful and graceful,” she says with a wistful smile.
“I knew I wanted to dance,” she says. And at age 15, she began socking away the money she earned babysitting to pay for dance lessons.
Since she retired from her career as an administrative assistant, she dances more now than ever. “I’ve always done local theater and danced in a chorus. And after our kids grew up and I retired, I found some ladies who belonged to a senior dance group.” And that’s where the real action began, she says.
When she was 67, a fellow senior dancer suggested Murtagh enter the Ms. New York Senior America Pageant. With her family’s support, she entered, and in 2000 was crowned the winner. “That experience opened so many doors. I learned to speak and perform before all types of audiences. It also allowed me to meet wonderful women from all over the United States, many of whom I keep in touch with to this day.”
Classes in tap, jazz and ballet fill her schedule, along with dancing the classics with her husband, performing at church fund-raising events and practicing with the Golden Grannies during NBA basketball season.
Recipe for Healthy Aging
Murtagh says healthy aging is all about attitude and mindset. “You don’t stop living just because you’ve reached a certain age,” she says emphatically. “You have to do things that are interesting, and you have to keep learning.”
Since their move to Arizona 10 years ago, the Murtaghs have formed their own entertainment group, Top Hat Entertainment.
They perform at group homes, assisted living facilities and rehabilitation centers to the delight of their elderly audiences.
They also stage variety shows to raise money for the church. In the most-recent show, Murtagh performed alongside her daughter and granddaughter in a three-generation tap number.
Her best advice for healthy aging? “Be yourself. Do what you love. And don’t let anyone discourage you.” She emphasizes her last point by saying: “If you’re determined, you will not let anyone stop you.”