It turned into a magical evening for a packed house at the Goldcoast Ballroom as Boca Raton resident Sandi Finci Solomon and her nonprofit Ageless World of Dance put on a fundraiser of dancing and dinner to benefit veterans and children.
The organization’s mission is to bridge communities and people of all ages through the art and culture of ballroom dancing.
The Goldcoast Ballroom in Coconut Creek was transformed for St. Patrick’s Day for the veterans, Florida Atlantic University students, dancers and supporters.
But the main focus was on suicide among veterans and service members, which is a cause that resonates with Finci Solomon, who has been a proponent for dance ever since she started dancing with her father as a child while entertaining veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland.
She said she realized the positive mental and physical benefits from dance could be extended to veterans and the next generation of children and young adults. The soon-to-be 85-year-old remains on a mission to share the benefits of dance.
Her vision is to keep youth out of gangs and to keep veterans safe from self-harm. In 2020, there were 6,146 veteran suicide deaths, according to a 2022 report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“This is what we’re trying to prevent,” Finci Solomon said. “When veterans find an activity like dance that they really enjoy, they look forward to coming here. We have many relationships and marriages that came about because of dance. Dance is just a very friendly and happy world.”
Retired U.S. Marine Sgt. Angelo Martinez was surrounded by fellow veterans who were all smiles as they hit the ballroom dance floor. The Coconut Creek resident is the South Florida coordinator for the Irreverent Warriors organization. He served in the Marine Corps for eight years.
“We bring veterans together using humor and camaraderie to improve mental health and prevent veteran suicides,” he said. “With dancing, you are submerged in the community and no longer in isolation. This improves your mental health and you have a great time, and you are filled with joy that maybe you haven’t experienced in a long time.”
The purpose is to draw veterans out of isolation and get them interacting with members of their community.
“This rings very true to me because in December of 2019 I almost killed myself,” Martinez said. “Being with other veterans who have experienced what I have experienced has changed my life. This type of activity keeps us alive and thriving. We want to continue doing these types of things. This is amazing to see the community coming out here to support us and honor us. To see what Sandi, Lon (Wilkinson) and the sponsors have done for us has overwhelmed me with joy.”
Finci Solomon’s philanthropic works include Leading Ladies, an auxiliary of the Transplant Foundation, which led to her being named Woman of the Year. The Jewish Adoption and Foster Care Options (JAFCO) named its ballroom the Sandi & Leonard Solomon Grand Ballroom after her and her late husband.
“This is not my first rodeo,” she said, smiling. “Our goal is to have a few tables at the ballroom for veterans, first responders and our youth. We are hoping to have sponsors support this through our Ageless World of Dance Foundation. We welcome everyone.”
She also has hosted the Florida Atlantic University student ballroom dance club and serves on several college, university and theater advisory boards.
The idea to form the foundation started last December when Finci Solomon was dancing with instructor Lon Wilkinson.
“When I asked Lon his age, I told him I could be your grandmother and that’s when I came up with the Ageless World of Dance,” she said. “You can dance with your son, grandson or great grandson. Lon was already teaching veterans how to dance as well as working with nonprofit organizations and I’ve already been working with many youth organizations like the FAU Ballroom Dance Club, and we put the two together.”
Marina Watkins is president of the Ballroom of FAU dance club. With a 12-year background of ballet and jazz dance, it was a natural extracurricular activity for the college sophomore.
“Coming out of COVID, I was glad to have Sandi reach out to our club and make us part of this wonderful event,” Watkins said. “We have close to 60 members overall in our club. We offer a social class every Thursday night, which is open to all ages and the public where we promote dance. I fell in love with ballroom dancing immediately. We love having a relationship with Sandi and the Goldcoast Ballroom.
“What Sandi is doing is an amazing cause and everyone in our group was begging to come. There are amazing dancers here and as Sandi says, ‘dance is timeless."
Finci Solomon said dancing is the glue that brings different generations together.
“Dancing is a game the whole family can play, and we thank the Goldcoast Ballroom for hosting us,” she said. “When you are dancing, people are smiling and happy doing what they love to do. A man that dances will never be alone, and the women will chase him.”
Finci Solomon is Ageless World of Dance’s founder and board chairperson with Wilkinson serving as executive director. Edda De Jesus and Allan Weiss are the other board members. The nonprofit is seeking donations, sponsors and volunteers.