By Michele Lerner

Special to The Washington Post

When the live band cranks out Lynyrd Skynyrd tunes, dance parties feature line dancing instead of waltzes, and the weekly piano bar singalong is more likely to include songs by Elton John than Cole Porter, you know you’re in the new version of a community for people 55 and up.

Baby boomers, who have driven lifestyle changes for decades, are now turning retirement communities into places where they can keep the party going.

In the 14 years since she started working at the active-adult community formerly known as Leisure World, the trend among residents is away from sedentary activities and toward more energetic pursuits, says Donaliece Carey, director of community activities at Lansdowne Woods in Lansdowne, Virginia.

“I think it’s mostly about the more youthful attitude of our residents, but the median age of residents is also trending down a little, too,” Carey says.

Carol Cutrona, a resident at Lansdowne Woods for the past seven years, didn’t anticipate the level of social activity before she moved there.

“Within a week, I was firmly entrenched in the community and involved with the entertainment group,” Cutrona says. “Many of our residents are blessed with talent — we have singers, dancers, writers and actors who love to perform. We also have a loyal audience of residents who love to be entertained.”

Cutrona, a published author of a Civil War historical novel, writes much of the material for performances with a team of other residents. She is also involved with the activities committee and a Civil War group.

“As a former social worker, I know how important the social relationships we have are to residents,” she says. “It’s also perfectly acceptable to be quiet here if you want.”

Maddie Usera, a resident at Celebrate by Del Webb in Fredericksburg, Virginia, for the past four years, says she and her husband call the community a “Club Med” for active adults.

“There are so many social clubs and events that people can be busy every hour here,” Usera says. “There are card games and board games every hour, cooking classes, art studios, and a lot of people here have a performing arts background.”

Usera says residents have formed two rock bands, including one with a talented female drummer in high demand to perform with the professional bands that visit the community.

“There are lines to get into the rock shows, the choir performances and the Friday night line-dancing parties,” Usera says. “During the dance parties, they set up cornhole outside so people can play when they want a break from dancing.”

Usera says the adult kids of the residents want to come and hang out with their parents because everyone is having so much fun.

The level of activity at Celebrate has increased over time, says Dawn Jankowski, new-home sales consultant at Celebrate.

“We used to mostly have card games and potluck dinners when the clubhouse opened eight years ago, but now we’ve got a younger crowd living here, and the focus is on being active socially and physically,” Jankowski says.

Activities galore

“The typical active adult clubhouse used to be like a big gym, but now we have a different spin, with rooms for yoga and a younger, more vibrant setting,” says Kathy Sain, vice president of sales for Van Metre Homes, which is developing two new communities in Virginia, Birchwood at Brambleton and the Crest in Alexandria. “We’ll offer different activities, including things like wine tastings and cooking classes.”

Fire pits, outdoor kitchens with pizza ovens and an herb garden will be among the amenities at the Crest, which will also have a yoga lawn and a dog park, says Karen Edmmons, general sales manager of the Crest of Alexandria.

“Today’s active adult buyers are different,” says Glenn Forester, vice president of marketing for Van Metre. “The majority of our buyers are still working, and they want to be close to their friends and to culture, great restaurants and wineries.”

At Regency at Dominion Valley, a Toll Brothers community in Haymarket, Virginia, open since the early 2000s, the social activities coordinator keeps everyone busy on site and with local trips.

“The New Year’s Eve party last year sold out in a few hours, and we had a waiting list for a White House tour, too,” says Jason Crimson, senior project manager of Toll Brothers in Haymarket. “Every activity sells out, including trips to Nationals (baseball) games and art museums.”

Toll Brothers recently opened Creekside, another 55-and-older community in Haymarket, which will have similar activities to Dominion Valley, including wine tastings and frequent trips to local wineries.

“Dominion Valley has evolved over time and has an activities committee that comes up with new ideas based on what residents want,” Crimson says. “There are weekly happy hours, often with music and entertainment, pool parties, outdoor concerts and cooking classes.”

Honing in on food, wine

Gourmet food and wine are essential to many buyers in active-adult communities today, says Samantha Reid, communications manager of 55Places.com in Chicago.

“Demonstration kitchens for chefs and cooking classes are popular amenities in a lot of communities,” Reid says. “At Trilogy in Orlando, they have a ‘culinary garden’ where residents can grow produce and learn how to cook it. Wine tastings, wine clubs and wine appreciation events are common, too.”

Reid says she’s seen an increase in the number of communities that offer cooking classes and other food or wine-related activities since about 2010.

“At Trilogy at Lake Frederick [in Virginia], we decided to raise the bar on the dining options for residents, so we decided to build a fine-dining option and open it to the general public, as well as residents,” says Jason King, general manager of Shea Homes at Trilogy at Lake Frederick. “By opening it to the public, we knew we’d have to offer a restaurant that could stand on its own and provide exceptional food and service.”

The fine-dining restaurant at Lake Frederick, called Region’s 117, is in the Shenandoah Lodge and Athletic Club, which has two additional dining options and a bar reserved for residents.

“The bar is a happening spot, with happy hours, pool tables, a golf simulator and gathering areas,” King says. “We also have a demonstration kitchen for cooking classes and wine tastings. We even do simulcasts of chef demonstrations at other Trilogy communities while our on-site culinary team prepares the same meal for residents.”

Cooking classes are held frequently at Celebrate, Jankowski says, and the wine-tasting club became so popular that they now have four separate clubs to accommodate everyone.

“We organize trips to wineries often, and next year a group is going to Spain,” Jankowski says.

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