May I Have This Dance?

Peggy and Harlan Newton Grace and Bill Bowen

By Karin Fabry • Photos By John Jernigan

“There is definitely an increase in interest,” dance instructor Jamey Webb says. “People are asking more questions and it’s much more on the forefront of their minds. When people find out I’m an instructor, they always say ‘Oh I’ve always wanted to do that but never did anything about it.’ Now, with the shows coming on, it’s something people are beginning to explore.”

Two local couples know all too well the benefits ballroom dancing can bring to their lives.

Peggy and Harlan Newton have been together for 29 years, though most would still consider them newlyweds after less than a year of marriage. The happy couple actually took up dancing after learning they would have to dance together at a friend’s wedding. Panic set in when they realized neither knew how to dance.

“I went to the phonebook and there were three dance studios,” Peggy says. “We went with the first one that answered the phone and we got lucky.”

Peggy and Harlan have been dancing under the instruction of Jamey Webb ever since.

And what started as a solution to avoid embarrassing one another at a wedding, has turned into a true love of dancing for both of them.

“We had so much fun dancing at the wedding after our instruction that we decided to keep it up,” Peggy says.

Of course when you see the Newtons, you might think dancing together might be a bit of a challenge. At 6’6”, Harlan towers over Peggy’s 5’3” frame. But Peggy insists it’s not a problem.

“We dance well together,” she says. “One of the joys of dancing is that it doesn’t matter if you’re old or young, fat or thin, or tall or short, anyone can do it.”

Peggy describes her and Harlan’s dancing relationship as an “equal playing field,” meaning they began the lessons together and have enjoyed working their way up through the ranks together.

“Every time we went to a class, there was something else we wanted to learn,” Peggy says. “We enjoy all of the dances and have fun learning the new moves.”

Peggy and Harlan decided to take their dance lessons one step further when they began entering competitions.

“The competitions are a way for us to put the skills and moves we’ve learned to good use,” Peggy says. “It’s also a wonderful way to combine our two loves – dance and travel.” Peggy also adds that she and Harlan have met wonderful friends throughout the country.

As a matter of fact, the competitions have taken the Newtons to North Carolina, Ohio, Las Vegas, Georgia, and Tennessee, just to name a few. And it was on that special trip to Tennessee this past July that the couple decided to get married.

“It was a great, spontaneous thing,” Peggy says. “We knew eventually we would get married, but the time and place had to be right. It was a fun experience all around.”

As competitive dancers, Harlan and Peggy perform a variety of dances, including selections from the rhythm dances. Peggy’s favorites are the cha cha and salsa. Harlan favors the smooth dances such as the waltz or foxtrot.

“One of the biggest challenges is the Viennese Waltz,” Peggy says. “It’s a beautiful dance that features many rotations. It certainly requires quite a bit of concentration.”

Peggy says it’s an illusion when you see people dancing on television.

“They make it look easy,” she says “but that’s the point, it’s supposed to look easy. In reality, it takes a lot of practice and dedication.”

But Peggy says it’s also wonderful exercise.

“I can say from first hand experience that dancing has enhanced our lives in many ways,” she says.

You would never know by looking at them that Bill and Grace Bowen are both nearing 80 years old. Both are tall and poised. Perfect for ballroom dancing.

Grace and Bill met just a few years ago, quite by accident when they took the same cruise.

“I was with my daughter and Grace was with hers,” Bill recalls. “On the second day of the cruise, I went down to the main dining room to find some friends. I saw a table with three ladies and a lot of empty seats and asked if they would mind if I sat down.”

They didn’t. One of the ladies was Grace. At the time of the cruise, Grace was living in Ocala and Bill was living in Connecticut.

“I was ready to get away from the cold weather up north so I came down to Florida,” Bill says. “I actually moved to Ocala in the hopes of meeting up with Grace again.”

The cruise was in March. By the following October, Bill had moved to Ocala.

As a way to meet other single people, Bill began taking dance lessons with Jamey. Bill adds that each month there are two big dances held at the Moose Lodge, and he decided to give one of them a try.

“I was dancing with a friend of mine and she actually said I should dance with Grace,” Bill says. “So we met again and danced and things warmed right up again between us.”

Grace adds that “a single man is always welcome in the world of dancing and Bill was very enthusiastic about dance.”

“I actually started to dance in 1989,” Grace says. “My brother and I lived in Rainbow Springs and at the time, there weren’t many opportunities for singles to get together. We ended up at Jamey’s studio in Ocala and it was wonderful. The studio had the social dances we were looking for, plus there were evening classes held.”

And besides, that’s where she met up with Bill again. After dating for a while, Grace and Bill married a year and a half ago.

While Bill admits he still has more work to do when it comes to dancing, the couple is enjoying their lessons and they’ve begun entering competitions as well. So far they’ve traveled to Orlando and Tampa, but more trips are planned for the future.

Bill’s personal favorites are the smooth dances including the tango, waltz, and foxtrot.

“I like the smoothness of how you have to follow the music,” he says. “You’re holding your partner quite close and showing her how you want to move, where as in some of the other dances you’re actually dancing apart.”

Grace on the other hand, enjoys the detailed movements of the quickstep; she also enjoys the samba.

Just like Peggy and Harlan, Grace and Bill are quick to point out the many benefits of ballroom dancing.

“I think it keeps you fit because you want to look and feel your best when you’re dancing,” Grace says. “You tend to eat properly, too.”

Bill likens dancing to aerobics.

“It’s also very romantic,” Bill says. “Our instructor says, ‘Where else can you hold a woman in your arms and have a great time and still keep your clothes on?’

“All joking aside, it really is fun,” Bill adds. “Sure you have to take the time to learn the steps, but once you do and you’re gliding across the floor, there’s nothing like it.”

“It’s certainly changed our lives dramatically,” Grace adds. “We don’t sit at home and watch television, instead we’re out exercising and meeting people.”

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