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Retired? Dance to maintain health

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Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Martin J.J. Pack has some retirement advice you won't find on Wall Street:

Go dancing — for the health dividends.

Pack, 67, is a retired steelworker. Also a retired magician. And decades ago he quit as a hairdresser.

Right now he's selling off the tools of his most colorful career — a library of magic books and tricks.

The main thing people should do before quitting the daily commute, he says, is save more. And in retirement, keep busy.

He says he's met many active oldsters enjoying the time of their lives. “I don't know how I had time to go to work, they say.”

But when the paychecks stop, he cautions in a phone conversation from his home in Butler, “you have to watch your money.”

In the era when Pack grew up, it was assumed each generation would have more than their parents. He thinks this caused too many to spend too freely in their earning years.

His own retirement is brightened by a part-time job he loves — and which explains his praise for dancing.

As “Marty” Pack he's a disc jockey, spinning records mixed with a line of genial gab at reunions, club events and community dances. No fan of disco, he plays “oldies and goodies” of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. And people come from miles around, he says — that is, around Butler, where he lives and works — to swing and sway.

The magic collection he's now selling began building decades ago. He got hooked on the hand-is-quicker-than-the-eye art in boyhood. Pittsburgh was “a big place in magic,” he recalls. He eventually worked up shows for parties, then kept improving during the 33 years that Butler's AK Steel Corp, (originally Armco) was his day job.

He'd appear on stage in a tuxedo but also in clown get-up as “Rainbow.” His first wife and two daughters assisted as “Sunshine” and “Gumdrops.” It paid a modest $80 to $200 a gig in those days, but did take him to national conventions, exhibits and sittings of magician “rings” from Pittsburgh to New York and Las Vegas. He kept a little zoo of co-stars: rabbits, mice, a duck and an African pygmy goat. A favorite trick was to shroud a cage of white doves, then whip off the cover and – no more birds! Just a well-fed cat.

Pack remembers going to Pittsburgh alone by bus for hairdressing classes at a downtown school — at age 13; his aunts ran beauty salons. Later, after his army discharge, the beauty business looked crowded and he went into the mill.

Today, his no-longer-employed magic ear — 150-plus card tricks and boxes, florals, silks and whatnot — “takes up a lot of space.” he said.

He loves to laud the health awareness of seniors who come out to the dances he hosts — the third Saturday of every month, for example, at Butler's Meridian Veterans Club, with his wife Kathy assisting. “It's true,” he says, with absolutely nothing up his sleeve. “It keeps you young.”

Jack Markowitz is a columnist for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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