Four years ago the Hasselbring Senior Center on West Home Avenue was headed toward demolition.
Then along came Garald Haralson, a local DJ and entertainer who had been spinning and performing at Loving Hands, another senior center in town. There he would play older music– Motown from the ’60s and funk from the ’70s – and it was a hit.
The Hasselbring Hustlers next big gig will be January 27 when they will perform at Savor the Flavor of Flint, a signature food festival at the Dort Event Center.
“The people there would sit in their wheelchairs and clap. They really got into it,” Haralson says of the folks who came by each day.“They eventually learned my name, and would ask for me if I wasn’t there. ‘Where’s that guy? Where is that Smokey Robinson?’ they would say.”
It’s where he says he started putting a smile on people’s faces.
Haralson wanted to do the same at Hasselbring to keep the crowds coming.
He knew the owner and made the offer to DJ there as well. He started playing at Hasselbring in the afternoons, and the people who came through the door really seemed to like it. A small crowd of about 15 people would gather around each day at first, but it’s when they started getting their energy back that they kept coming.
The center wanted Haralson to teach an exercise class but, given the participants’ desire to move, he came up with the idea to add a few dance steps to the mix.
“I looked around when I was there and realized these seniors were trying to dance. I thought this has got to be the ticket,” he says.
Haralson called the class Hustle Aerobics, after the ’70s disco classic “Do the Hustle.”
He knew exercise was what the folks needed, but it was the music that really set them in motion – literally.
“Sometimes you just can’t resist it,” Haralson says.
The class had more than an energizing effect on people. Some of those who came regained a surprising ease of movement by the simple act of dancing –getting the blood flowing again. A few used canes to walk, which quickly went by the wayside, and somewere wheelchair-bound, like Miss Turner, 84, one of Haralson’s favorite students and who was battling cancer.
“She would just move her feet at first,” he says. “I would make a joke out of it –but I was patient. She’s not in the wheelchair anymore, and she’s cancer-free now.”
Is he a miracle worker? Maybe not, but Haralson’s classes caught on.
What started with a small group of 15 grew to approximately 175, and eventually became known as the Hasselbring Hustlers.The group meets each Monday and Tuesday from 2:00-4:00 p.m. at the center to hustle until they can’t hustle any longer.
The class lasts for an hour and a half, but some Hustlers want to dance for two hours or more. Haralson will play as many as 25 songs during one class.
The group has hustled at schools, other nursing homes, community events and has performed at The Whiting with the singer Tank. Sixty Hustlers came with Haralson when he was picked to start the show off.
“They all danced behind me. It was unbelievable,” he says.
The Hustlers will often accompany Haralson on his gigs at various venues around town, where they go by the name of Gardell’s Hustlers on the Move. They’ve danced at family reunions, weddings, and lots of 60thand 70th birthday parties.
“We’ve danced at the football game at Carmen-Ainsworth High School and halftime at the basketball game,” says Haralson. “These Hustlers want to dance all the time – everywhere. Some have even started teaching their own classes.”
Their next big gig will be January 27 when the Hasselbring Hustlers will perform at “Savor the Flavor of Flint, a signature food festival at the Dort Event Center. The community-wide event celebrates the city’s food heroes, family recipes and good nutrition when area restaurants and food vendors as well as home cooks get to show off the city’s emerging food culture. There will also be celebrity-led cooking demonstrations and entertainment, tastings, pop-up shops and dynamic discussions about the power of good foods.
Haralson, who turns 65 next month, has a long musical history. He grew up on the south side of Flint and joined a local rock group in the 1980s called Hunt’s Determination. Their R&B hit “She’s on My Mind”made it big on the charts, and they toured locally.
Their gigs took them to legendary Detroit haunts as well, like Henry’s Palace, Ethel’s Lounge, and even Joe Louis Arena, where they once opened for The Temptations.
Haralson has been happy to keep the music – and the dance steps – flowing in his later years, and working with the Hustlers is where he gets his joy.
“To see these older people move, when they didn’t have a whole lot to do, is wonderful,” he says. “Now, I can’t get them to sit down.”
With seniors as his specialty, the Crim Fitness Foundation asked Haralson to teach similar classes at Flint Southwestern Academy and Flint Northwestern High School. They take place every Wednesday at Southwestern from 5:00-6:30 p.m. and every Thursday at Northwestern from 6:00-7:30 p.m.
“Those classes are for everybody,” he says. “A few kids come to them, some come with their parents. There’s a good mix.”
Haralson, and his groups, aren’t going to stop mixing it up –and hustling – anytime soon.
— Photos courtesy Hasselbring Senior Center