Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are days of “joy” each week for Irene Mead. A Madison Area YMCA member for six years, Irene takes the Joy Dance Aerobics class where she comes for an hour and 15 minutes to work out in a place where she feels welcomed and inspired.

“Joy is a very focused, structured class with coordinated movement in an intimate setting,” says Irene. “We work out to the most current music, which is uplifting.” She explains that different movement patterns are taught every few weeks so that once a pattern is called out, everyone knows what their next step is. The class also dances to some classics like the Charleston and the Cha-cha.

Irene points out that the class, which has a regular following, is a place where many friendships have been made. So many friendships, in fact, the tight-knit group meets twice a year outside of the Y, including the holidays, for a luncheon to celebrate their friendship and camaraderie while they eat, drink and be merry. And there’s much to be merry about for Irene. She’s a cancer survivor. Although never a smoker, right before Christmas in 2011, the Morristown resident had been diagnosed with an unusual type of lung cancer.

Sign Up for E-News

After surgery and chemotherapy, Irene came to the Madison Area YMCA and found the Joy class, which she credits with helping her rebuild herself physically, psychologically and emotionally.

“Month by month, I could see progress in my strength and endurance,” Irene says, noting that the instructor of Joy, Elizabeth Vandeveer, who is also the CFO at the Madison Area YMCA, does an excellent job with the choreography. Irene says the beauty of the class is that it is for all ages and has a cardio element that can be ramped up or down.

“The members of the class gave me encouragement.” Irene shares her tradition of how she reports to the class each year when she receives a clean bill of health from her doctor. “I would tell them, ‘I’m six years!’” she says with a little laugh, adding “I feel cozy here at this Y. It has a warmth that I haven’t found in other places.”

“The Y has been inspirational for me,” says the mother of two grown children. “We’ve had people in our class that are over 90 years old—they’re fighting aging and keeping up with the class. Their mental acuity is inspiring,” Irene says. “I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how high you kick—it’s that you kick!”