I have attorney Debra Sutton to thank for rekindling a love that had laid dormant 25-plus years.
After having done an article on her avocation, competitive ballroom dancing, in which she is a highly ranked amateur, it prompted me, in part, to take group lessons being taught by Mary Dague at the Kelly Recreation Center in Lakeland. Unfortunately, my attendance was sporadic as my father’s health necessitated me to be by his side for several weeks, so I never did get the full benefit.
As a result, that spark dwindled to a mere flicker until I received an email from Debra in mid-January. She asked if I might be interested in becoming the partner of a lady who wanted to dance in the ballroom competition in this year’s Polk County Senior Games.
I was reluctant but willing to at least “audition,” so Debra provided me the name and phone number of another dance partner of hers, Buddy Johnston, who was this lady’s teacher. I called and agreed to meet them that Saturday. Well, the audition consisted of my showing up. Despite my lack of expertise, I was going to be dancing.
The three of us decided to do the waltz, but after three rehearsals it was apparent that dance would not do, so we switched to the foxtrot. But time was tight, plus Buddy would not be present for at least two of the rehearsals as he would be in Miami at a competition in which he and Debra were participating. Another rehearsal was missed due to a misunderstanding what day it was scheduled to take place.
In all, my partner, Suzanne Harris, and I had, at most, seven or eight hours in which I not only had to learn some basic steps, but also how and where to hold my hands, body posture, weight placement and, most important, how to lead. So I struggled as best I could and we did come up with a basic routine that would “carry us across the dance floor.”
Competition was March 1. Among the items I was handed upon registering was the schedule. There were 13 other dances before the foxtrot. It turned out to be two hours before time for the foxtrot.
At first I had trepidations, the first being making mistakes; I didn’t want to be the first. But as I watched those on the floor, my concerns dissipated. Mistakes happened and the dancers simply danced on. Another trepidation was the fact that both Debra Sutton and Mary Dague were among the judges, something I did not become aware of until mere days before the competition.
Then “it” happened. As the time to dance grew closer, I found myself quite at ease. I think, although I’m not sure, that Buddy and Suzanne were more nervous for me than I was, which I wasn’t. So when it came time to take to the floor, I was ready, calm and focused; a sharp contrast to the rehearsals when I was so anxious to learn and retain what I had been taught.
Once I stepped onto the dance floor I was on “my turf.” I had entered into a quite familiar “zone” for me as I used to be a semi-professional actor and had long ago ceased being knee-knocking nervous. Yes, it was a competition and there are times I can be very competitive, but it also was a performance. So although it had been more than seven years since I had last “trod the boards,” it was a feeling of “welcome back, we missed you.”
Yes, I did commit a few missteps but my partner and I glided over those and yes, I did step on her toes at least once, but lightly. However, we came in second place in our age bracket and were awarded silver medals. But don’t pop open the champagne just yet. There was only one other couple in our age bracket and guess what color medal they won.
I later learned we almost copped the gold, the consideration being we did have good form for a couple who had only danced together eight hours at most while the other couple had been partners for more than a year.
Since the competition, I signed up for private lessons with Mary Dague, who has a studio in Lakeland. I have had two classes thus far, first learning foxtrot, swing and rumba. Yes, it’s nerve wracking, but I’m OK with that because I want to be more than just proficient, I aim to excel and Mary’s tough enough to make sure I won’t slack off. Besides, you now owe me at least two, possibly three, dances, Debra, and I aim to collect ... when I’m positive I’ll be good enough to hold my own on the dance floor, say, in 2020.
Now, I don’t believe I will ever enter the ranks of competitive ballroom dancing as Debra Sutton has. For one thing, it’s expensive as all get-out, what with entry fees, costumes, transportation, lodging and meals, and I’m only a poor journalist. But I am gung-ho for next year’s Senior Games.
Watch out 2015.
The Polk County Senior Games ended March 10. The results of the competition are set to run in Wednesday’s edition.