While many may have used the extended Labor Day weekend to take a final trip to a beach before the onset of fall, the Dalton-Whitfield Senior Center had a beach party of its own Tuesday, complete with beach-themed music, decorations and outfits.

The Beach/Labor Day party was the first major event on site since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and "we're grateful we can open — (albeit) with a mask mandate — so they can fellowship," said Rosie Mosteller, the senior center's director. "We went so long with nothing, and we got lots of calls (with people) asking, 'When can we come in?'"

It's crucial to fight loneliness with "seniors, (many of whom) live alone, and they can get depressed, but this really helps them," said Peggy Wright, a receptionist at the senior center. "They can come here and socialize."

The senior center is one of the Dalton Parks and Recreation Department's facilities that provides recreational opportunities through everything from trips and lunches to classes and activities, as well as a host of educational programs and events, said Julie Dyer, senior program supervisor for the senior center. "It's nice to have you all back with us today, partying down."

"Mental health is as important as physical health, and it's important to keep our seniors in a positive frame of mind," Mosteller said. "It's been a long time, but we have a good turnout today, and we're looking forward to more events where they can see each other."

"I really missed interacting with everyone," said Deborah Pearson. "You make new friends and see old ones."

Door prizes — courtesy of several sponsors — were awarded for best costumes and dancing and in other categories. The Mar-Sel tap dancers and The Wranglers line dancers performed several numbers.

Historically, those groups have performed in nursing homes and similar facilities for residents, but not recently due to COVID-19, Dyer said. "We really miss that."

Pearson has been a member of The Wranglers for three-and-a-half years, and "I love to dance," said the former Whitfield County Schools kindergarten teacher. "It keeps your mind active, remembering the steps," as well as one's body, performing those steps.

Glenda Hardin joined the Mar-Sel tap dancers in 2007 after seeing them perform, she said. "I thought, 'I'd like to do that."'

"I took tap when I was 4 to about 10, but I hadn't danced in years when I joined, (so) I started in a beginner class and moved up," she said. "Some of it comes back to you."

She's also a leading choreographer for the group.

"It's fun, but it takes a long time," she said. Fortunately, "the music tells you what to do."

"When you hear the music, you know what you're supposed to do," said Marge Trollinger, the last charter member of the Mar-Sel group — which began in 1999 — still active. "I still get butterflies every time (we perform)."

Members of the Mar-Sel group "stay in touch almost every day, checking on each other, and that's a valuable thing to have in our lives," Trollinger said. "At this time in my life, it's the fellowship we have, the love of each other, and the love of dance that keeps me going."

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