'Bringing it all day every day: Hasselbring Hustlers keep dancing, building community

FLINT, Michigan—The music cues and the floor fills with dancers. A grey, plastic, folding table serves as a makeshift barrier between the Hustlers and those playing board games in the Hasselbring Senior Community Center on a Tuesday afternoon. Every week, this space fills with 150 seniors who come to socialize, to exercise and to Hustle.

And, make no mistake about it—nobody, nowhere, knows how to hustle like a Hasselbring Hustler.

In the simplest terms, Hasselbring Hustlers are dancers, but that is just the tip for this group that visits nursing homes and schools and even performed on stage at The Whiting. All Hasselbring Hustlers must be active, must eliminate the phrase “I can’t” from their vocabulary, and must be 55 years or older. 

The Hustlers are a community. They are Flint pride, through and through. 

The Hasselbring Hustlers started as a small exercise class in October of 2013. Initially, it only hosted about 15 seniors per class and the center wanted (needed) a change. “Mention exercise, ain’t nobody going to show up,” says Gardell Haralson, emcee and instructor for the Hustlers class Mondays and Tuesdays at Hasselbring. “My aim to do this, was they had no people in this place. Because it was the northside, they didn’t think they could get people in.”

He was looking for a different angle. Haralson, a musician and performer turned DJ, first began working with seniors at Loving Hands Adult and Senior Care. He saw firsthand the impact dancing could make. He saw seniors no longer needing canes, becoming more vibrant, and overcoming health issues. He brought the same strategy to Hasselbring.

“Nobody was dancing in the beginning. Everyone is dancing now,” Haralson smiled. Initially, the class struggled to make it through one song over the course of an hour and a half. Frequent stops for rest and prolonged inactivity prevented many of the seniors from dancing continuously. Now, Hustlers approach Haralson when there is a gap between songs, urging him to put on another. Classes routinely go through 20-25 songs and the Hustlers dance for the duration. Many of them wiping sweat from their brows and sometimes changing their sweat-soaked shirts, like Dino Hardy, one of the Hustlers’ leaders.

This is a dance/exercise class, but also a dance troop—complete with branded clothing and matching outfits. They are booked to dance at events throughout the city bringing their own unique sense of community and camaraderie to just about any and every kind of function imaginable. Bunny Jones, whose husband suggested she start with the Hustlers three years ago, says: “Anywhere they ask us to go, we go.”
“I love coming because of these people,” Ruth Morris says after class. “They’re my sisters and brothers.” Morris, 82, is one of the elders among the group and has been dancing with the Hustlers basically since the very beginning. She now dances seven days a week at various locations around the city, a common thread for the Hustlers.

A group of 13 volunteers make up the Hustlers’ Committee, which is responsible for planning all upcoming events and meets once a month to organize trips to the casino, annual picnics, and manage charity events. “We got so busy we felt we needed to be more organized,” chairperson Marva Johnson said.

Not only does the dancing benefit the Hustlers’ physical well-being, but also their emotional and spiritual health. Elva Sheared has been dancing for four years at the Hasselbring Senior Community Center. Of her four siblings, only one remains and her time dancing has helped her cope with the loss of her twin sister. Even though she has a “bum knee,” she comes out to dance and enjoy the fellowship.

“We support each other. We get things done,” says Haralson as he watches lines of dancers shuffle across the floor. “We’re a family.” Picking up a microphone, he hits the dance floor to join in on the fun; dancing, smiling and calling out the steps. With a sense of satisfaction, he feels his job at the Hasselbring is done. Growing not only a class, but a community. “There ain’t a senior place nothing like this.”
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