Thrusday, December 31, 1998

Kick it, Sister! Nuns lead line dancing




BY KAREN SAMPLES
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — With a look of serene concentration, Sister Joe Nita Schleuter swishes into action. Heel, toe, swivel, step. Sometimes she even sings to the music.

        “I ain't going to love nobody but Cornell Crawford,” one lyric goes. Then there's that holiday favorite, “Please Daddy Don't Get Drunk This Christmas.”

        “It's the right tempo,” Sister Schleuter says.

        Welcome to country line dancing at St. Charles Care Center, where nuns, staff people and Fort Wright residents gather once a week to boogie down.

        Never mind that some of the songs are decidedly secular — Cornell Crawford, for instance, drives a pickup and drinks from a brown paper bag — or that line dancing is usually done in country-western bars.

        The sisters and their friends need the exercise. Everybody needs the fellowship. If you listen closely, twangy tales like “Please Daddy” are more about caring than get ting drunk.

        “It's a sad song, really,” says Sister Jean Clare Lamping. “It's funnier when we play "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer' and do the macarena.”

        And I thought Whoopi Goldberg made a witty nun.

        Line dancing at St. Charles started about five years ago, when a sister from the convent across the street

        received lessons as a Christmas present. She taught others, and the dancing soon spread to the nursing home where some of the nuns work.

        Usually, 82-year-old Art Graessle is the only man who dances, but a handful stop by to watch. The most faithful observer is Vivian Burns, 72, who follows the beat by tapping her wheelchair. Ms. Burns has trouble speaking, but her anticipation of the weekly sessions is clear.

        Greeting dancers throughout the week, she'll often say, “Tuesday night, Tuesday night!”

        “She starts looking forward to it on Sunday,” says Sister Mary Harietta Gausepohl.

        The nuns and other staff people are never far from their responsibilities at the home. At one point this Tuesday, Sister Gausepohl danced off the floor and right up to the wheelchair of an elderly man. “Ready to go?” she asked, then pushed him away.

        Sister Schleuter is the drill sergeant of the bunch. Wearing sensible black shoes, calf-length black skirt, white blouse and cross, she maintains the tempo with military precision.

        “This is the sobriety test,” she says of one move, which involves swinging feet forward in an exaggerated step. “It's like walking the chalk line on the road.”

        The others tease about Sister Schleuter's perfectionism.

        “Kick it out, swivel it more!” Sister Gausepohl says.

        “Left foot, not right foot!” says Sister Lamping.

        Other dancers include Irene Mai, Peggy Haskell, Carole Stallmeyer and Flo Burke. Barbara Roden, a housekeeper at the nursing center, joined the group a few months ago. She gets off work, goes home and returns for the dancing.

        This Christmas, the group performed holiday selections for all the residents at the home. Nuns from the convent also have performed for Bishop Robert Muench, and once they went to Neon Cactus, a honky tonk that has since closed.

        That was funny, the sisters say. When they showed up wearing their habits, people's jaws hit the dance floor.

        Not that country music doesn't make room for a little reverence. In one of the group's favorite tunes, a guy asks to be propped up against a jukebox when he dies.

        “I want to go to heaven,” he sings, “but not tonight.”

        Karen Samples is The Enquirer's Kentucky columnist. Her column appears on Sundays and Thursdays in The Kentucky Enquirer. She can be reached at 578-5584 or by e-mail at: ksamples@enquirer.com

        Karen Samples is The Enquirer's Kentucky columnist. Her column appears on Sundays and Thursdays in The Kentucky Enquirer. She can be reached at 578-5584 or email her at ksamples@enquirer.com

SAMPLES ARCHIVE