Sandra Bartlett has not worn her zebra striped platform heels since the 1970s.

They sat in the closet until Bartlett, 73, of Maplewood received a flier about a dance party for seniors last month. Remember Soul Train, the popular TV show hosted by the late Don Cornelius? 

Well, put your hands together and give it up for the Aging & Brain Health Alliance at Rutgers University-Newark.  The department brought its own flavor to the “Hippest Trip in America” with “Soul Brain,” an affair where seniors danced, learned tips to sharpen their minds and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia Black people get at twice the rate as the overall population.

Led by Dr. Mark A. Gluck of the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, the alliance studies brain health in Blacks over age 60 in the Newark area, a research and community engagement program that has garnered national recognition. 

As part of that work, the alliance started dementia caregiver support groups and sponsored educational dinners with funding from the National Institute on Aging. It is now enrolling 
Black families into a national research study to identify new genes for Alzheimer’s 
in people of African ancestry.

Bartlett believes in research, having already participated in Rutgers ongoing study of older Black Americans.

“Anything I could do to help me or someone else, or anything that I can do to keep my brain functioning and on point, I’m interested,’’ she said.

During a break in the music, spry party-goers listened to brain health educators then hit the dance floor at the East Orange Senior Center. They wore afros, dashikis and bell-bottom slacks while others pumped their fists and flashed the peace sign dancing down the Soul Train Line.

Barnes Reid, 71, was all in, unaware the event featured brain health. But after the presentation, Reid is considering joining the Rutgers study, understanding movement is key to longevity. 

He’s competed in a senior track meet, studied comedy and ran for an Irvington council seat. Reid’s passion, though, is choregraphing liturgical dances for the praise ministry at his church – Saint Matthew AME in East Orange.

“I do these things to keep my mind sharp,’’ he said. 

A brain health party every now and then will help, too.