Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Sunday 24 October |
Saint of the Day: St. Anthony Mary Claret
Aleteia logo
home iconInspiring Stories
line break icon

He fought in World War II and then at age 99 competed in the World Tango Championship


Festivales GCBA

Esteban Pittaro - Matthew Green - published on 09/08/19

John McManus will make you re-think what it means to be "too old" to learn something new.

John McManus’ life is worthy of a feature film, although an unconventional one. It would start off something like the movie Saving Private Ryan, showing how he fought in World War II; but it would end something like the TV series So You Think You Can Dance, with the 99-year-old veteran competing in a tango competition in Buenos Aires, the capital of the country that gave birth to the popular and passionate style of ballroom dancing.

McManus and his dancing partner, professional dancer Lucía Seva, performed with elegance and dignity during the qualifying stages of the World Tango Championship before a packed Luna Park stadium, receiving an enthusiastic response from the audience. They were representing Waterford Tango in Ireland, the organization to which McManus belongs. It was the first time McManus had flown on an airplane since 1981, and he bought the ticket with help from friends.

Falling in love with tango

Born in Scotland, but Irish by “adoption,” he fought with the Royal Army in France during the Second World War, and then he worked as a telegraph and radio operator in the merchant marine. When, at the age of 80, he saw a couple dancing the tango, he knew right away he wanted to learn. “They were on stage and they performed this most wonderful dance, and I thought, ‘That is fantastic, I’ve got to do that,’” he told the Associated Press, according to an article by Almudena Calatrava in the Washington Post.

He started taking classes, sometimes as often as five times a week, and now also dances for fun on weekends. His personal discipline—the heritage of his army days?—has made him a good student, according to his teachers.

The competition

This is the path that led him to the dance floor with Lucía Seva last month, where they performed before the jury among other couples vying to pass to the next level of the competition. “I knew I had no chance of winning, but I thought it would be a good experience,” McManus told the the AP, and he gave it his all.

Despite not moving on to the finals, McManus stood out as the oldest dancer ever to participate in the competition, and he received a plaque for his participation.

McManus says that tango has changed his life.

“Before, maybe I didn’t bother too much going out,” he said, as reported in the WaPo article. “Now someone says there is a dance in so and so hotel, and I’ll say: ‘Yes I’ll be ready in a minute.’ Now I’ve got hundreds of friends, thousands.” He also told the reporter that he appreciates the benefits for his mental and physical health, as the dance “keeps me fit, moving all my muscles and my legs and my body, and my brain, because you have to navigate the floor.” Plus, he says, the “beautiful music and the rhythm of the dance” make him feel good.

“Too old” for something? Maybe we should think again.

The next time you feel too old to do something, remember the example of this 99-year-old war veteran who took up dancing the tango at the age of 80 and competed in Argentina shortly before completing a century of life. We aren’t all gifted with the physical health to be dancers in our golden years, but we can stay open to life’s invitation to try new things and to live our life to the fullest as long as God grants us strength.

Read more:
“A Tango for Pope Francis”

96 Year Old Georgina

Read more:
Watch how this 96-year-old woman is helping to end loneliness among the elderly (VIDEO)

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Marinella Bandini
Exclusive: Carlo Acutis as seen by his mother
Philip Kosloski
Padre Pio replied to John Paul II’s letter with a miracle
Theresa Civantos Barber
St. John Paul II’s perfect advice for lasting love in marriage
Cerith Gardiner
A collection of Pope John Paul II’s quotes on some of life’s most...
John Burger
Once considered for top post in Anglican Church, former bishop be...
Philip Kosloski
How kindness begins in your heart
Philip Kosloski
What’s the difference between confession and spiritual direction?
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.