Portland 100-year-old dancer proves age is just a number

Published: Mar. 11, 2022 at 7:39 PM PST
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - If you head to the Lloyd Athletic Club most days of the week, you might run into a woman who just might be Portland’s oldest dancer.

Lee Allen was born in November of 1921 in the City of Roses.

“I can’t believe it, but they tell me it’s true,” Allen said.

Although she’s 100, Allen could easily pass for someone at least 20 years younger.

And unlike most centenarians, Allen still lives alone, drives, does her own yardwork, manages a building she owns, and the list goes on.

Dancing has been a hobby most of her life, and these days her preferred style in line dancing.

She has attended the Silver Sneakers line dancing class three days a week for more than 20 years.

“It’s my best form of exercise,” Allen said. “I love the social atmosphere here and I’ve made a lot of really good friends and I’ve traveled with a lot of them.”

Allen said she has been all over the world with the friends she met in dance class. They’ve been to Portugal, South America and Hawaii, to name a few.

She often travels with her best friend, 88-year-old Lila Peterson.

“She’s witty, she’s funny, she’s got a great sense of humor,” Peterson said. “She’s a delight to be around.”

Instructor Joyce Mattson has been teaching dance for about 50 years. She said she’s never had a class stick together like this one.

“This class has a remarkable ability to love each other,” Mattson said. “It’s been epic.”

Allen is a class favorite.

“She’s been with me since we started here,” Mattson said. “And she is my hero.”

In her younger years, Allen said she used to love going to dance at McElroy’s Ballroom in downtown Portland.

“I always looked for places to dance,” Allen said. “I gravitate toward music and dance.”

Back in those days, Allen also worked in retail as a manger for Olds & King.

During World War II, her husband went missing.

“He was shot down in the South Pacific and we lost contact,” Allen said. “I didn’t know whether he was alive or dead and just kept waiting for the letters to come, and the mailman would shake his head as he walked by my house, and one day he waved a letter and I ran out and grabbed it and it was from my husband.”

Allen and her husband eventually decided to adopt three children, and they continued to raise their family in Portland.

Dancing was a constant through her life as she watched the city change over the decades.

What does she think of Portland now?

“It’s amazing; it’s distressing, and I think that about covers it,” Allen said.

Allen said she plans to celebrate her 101st birthday in Hawaii, after pausing her travel the last couple of years because of the pandemic.

“Lee is all our role model,” Peterson said. “We all want to be like Lee.”