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'We are a family': Line dancers rally to bring a beloved instructor back to First Coast YMCAs

Dozens of seniors signed a petition titled: Keep Kim. “There is no one that could replace her!” it says.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It’s been said that dancing is a shortcut to happiness.

For one local community of dancers – including many senior citizens – the shortest path to happiness is a straight line.

“True line dancers, you put on some music -- you don't even need a floor, we can be out in the parking lot on gravel, it don't matter -- when you get the line dancers we're gonna dance,” Kim Hinton says. “We're just gonna dance and dance and dance till they kick us out.”

Kim Hinton taught line dancing for 10 years, at every YMCA in the region. But she was no ordinary fitness instructor.

“Kim is a line dance teacher like no other,” says Judy Thompson, who started dancing with Hinton about five years ago. “She’s just a funny, just crazy, just bubbly, loving type of person. Everybody loves Kim.”

In addition to teaching classes, Hinton stitched together a tribe of disparate seniors, from Yulee to Ponte Vedra Beach, for events outside of the Y, including Saturday line dance parties, even a trip aboard the Georgia Queen riverboat in Savannah.

“This is not a line dance class,” Hinton says. “We were a line dance family.”

Kim Hinton teaches a recent gathering of her former YMCA line dancing students at the Arlington Senior Center.

That family bond frayed in March when Hinton left the YMCA for a full-time job.

“I hate leaving, because I love what was doing,” Hinton says. “But I’ve been a part-time employee for that 10 years, without benefits. I was going to different locations, and of course then gas went up, and the wear and tear on my car just got to be a little too much.”

“Kim decided ‘I just can't make it anymore,’” says Thompson. “She couldn't afford to do it. She had no benefits. She had no compensation [beyond her part time salary]. She had no stipend, no nothing.”

Hinton’s students rallied to keep her. They circulated petitions at all of her classes asking Y officials to hire her back full time. The petition noted her daily classes and drive time, in aggregate, amounted to a full-time position anyway. And they emphasized how important her classes were to seniors, “provid[ing] opportunity for social bonding, a path to good health and weight loss, and a lot of fun.”

“We don’t want to lose her!” the petition read. “There is no one that could replace her! Please grant us our petition.”

They collected more than 100 signatures, which Thompson personally dropped off at YMCA headquarters for CEO Eric Mann. “That might not sound like a whole lot if you're trying to cure world hunger,” Thompson says. “But I'm telling you -- if you got 50 signatures from small classes at the Y, you have done a lot. We have over 100!”

Asked about Hinton’s departure and the petition effort, First Coast YMCA’s Senior Vice President Michelle Moore issued this statement: “Kim Hinton was a beloved group exercise instructor with the First Coast YMCA who made an indelible impact on those who attended her classes. YMCA employees like Kim are special people who create strong bonds with members while helping them transform their health and well-being. Kim has told us she is happy with her new career choice and we continue to wish her well.”

“The Y doesn't have a clue as to what Kim means,” Thompson laments. “The only thing we wanted for Kim was to be paid according to what she did -- a fair compensation for what she does. Because they can't replace Kim, and they know they can't.”

Despite Hinton’s departure, her students are fighting to keep the “family” together. They recently organized a party at the Arlington Senior Center, featuring a DJ, snacks, a few dozen devoted Y students – and of course, hours of line dancing.

“Thank you so much for showing up and showing out,” Hinton cheered at the start of the night. “Give yourselves a hand!”

The event was such a success, they’re planning to do it again, Sept. 10 from 2-6 p.m. at the Arlington Senior Center.  

“You can't just tear us apart. It's like tearing our flesh apart,” Thompson says. “I miss her. And so do a lot of people.”

 For more info, call or text 904-802-1914





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