As the plane began to taxi down the runway heading away from the chill of Toronto to the warmth of Florida, I tightened my seat belt, closed my eyes, and let my mind wander back to the first time I had the good fortune to meet Jean Brewer and the dancers from the Villages. It was a few years ago now and I was meandering along the corridor at the Tampa Bay Line Dance Classic in the evening being my normal nosy self checking out what was going on in the other rooms. The ballroom was busy but I had noticed that quite a few faces were missing. Lo and behold, there they were in Olivia Ray's room. A dancer (who I later came to know was Jean) was in deep conversation with Olivia while at the same time looking through a thick CD binder. With a look of satisfaction she produced a particular CD and soon Olivia was setting it up to play. Smiles of recognition as the music came on and soon the floor was full. "They sure look like they're having a good time", I thought "and I reckon I could pick this one up off the floor". I ventured on and pretty soon had a dancer on each side of me indicating the steps. I had noticed that quite a few of these dancers had been in my classes and before I knew what had happened they had me up doing quick reviews and leading the dances I had taught. The pattern of future evenings dancing with The Villages dancers was set.
The next step was an invitation from Jean to my husband, Michael, and me to visit The Villages if we were ever in Florida. So last year on our way back to Toronto we dropped by and stayed for a few days and it was then that the idea of a workshop was born. Of course an idea is no good without follow-up but Jean is not someone to let the grass grow beneath her feet and pretty soon she was in touch with The Villages' Administration. I got an email asking when I would be available and then the venue was booked. What excitement! Two more names were added to the instructors' list, Arline Winerman, an experienced and very well liked Instructor who is also the extremely capable Event Director of the Tampa Bay Line Dance Classic, and Marilyn McNeal, the much loved resident instructor at Midnight Rodeo in Ocala, just outside of The Villages. Within a very short period after the announcement of the event in The Villages' Catalogue, the event was full - 170 dancers signing up straight away!
So now I've set the stage for the Workshop, I'll tell you a little about The Villages. Way back in the ''70s a Mr. Schwartz had a dream. He bought acres and acres of land in central Florida near Ocala and proceeded to start building his ideal of a perfect retirement community. Initially he struggled but as others began to see the merit of his dream, The Villages began to take off. What is there now is something that seems almost too good to be true but, in fact, is exactly as it seems. As the name indicates, The Villages is made up of a number of small villages all of which have their own unique character. There are homes here starting at just over $100,000 going up to over a million and you can buy a new home, a resale or rent.
You might ask me "What makes it so different from an ordinary town?" The difference is in the recreational amenities available. Each Village has its own swimming pool and recreation centre, while at the same time there are larger amenities that serve the entire community. There are 27 swimming pools, 23 Executive golf courses, 8 Championship courses including those designed by Nancy Lopez and Arnold Palmer (residents pay a nominal fee to play on these), numerous tennis, pickle ball, basket ball and shuffle board courts. There are clubs for people with interests such as basketball, ballet, archery, advanced acoustic guitar, country music, computer, clowning, china painting, chess, figure drawing, genealogy, philosophy, model railroads, polo, motor scooters, science fiction, soccer and so on... The list is endless and in fact there are over 1000 organized sports and social clubs and groups that meet weekly and/or monthly at the neighborhood or regional recreation centers.
"But this must cost a fortune", I hear you exclaim. Sit down for a minute while I tell you that for $113 per month you use all these facilities for free - that was Mr. Schwartz's dream. A retirement community that would enable retirees from all walks of life to live healthy active lives pursuing their interests. On top of which these facilities are first class; many of the recreation centres look like fancy hotels and the golf courses are top notch. The Villages is beautifully kept, not a piece of litter in sight and flowers everywhere. There are separate roads for the golf carts so that you don't even have to use your car. You can go eat at one of the many restaurants around the town squares after which you grab a seat on the square to watch the live music or join in the dancing which takes place every night. Alternatively, you can try your hand at one of the 2 bowling alleys that have 32 lanes or go see a movie. You could never be bored at The Villages. And I do assure you this is not a paid commercial!!
But, back to line dancing. I arrived late Friday night and dancing action started straight away on the Saturday with a teaching visit to Betty Mullon and Darlene Miller's class. Betty, a delightful woman, taught dance back in New York, so instructing line dancing is natural for her. Darlene is a new instructor and her keen enthusiasm communicates itself to the dancers. It was then time to get ready for the pot luck dinner/dance that had been arranged to welcome me to The Villages. It was also my opportunity to meet the Katie Belle Dancers. After Wednesday morning class this group of dancers go for lunch at the Katie Belle restaurant mainly because of the good dance floor and live music by the musical duo, Kathy & Tony, who call themselves 'The Sounds of Time'. The duo ensure that their music is dancer friendly. Other people now come to watch the dancers and they have developed quite a reputation! What a fun loving crowd they are; I had a great time dancing with them. Plus they sure know how to cook, the food was delicious.
Sunday was Workshop Day at the Laural Manor Recreation Centre (one of the regional centres). Eager dancers gathered well before the registration opened. Thanks to Jean's phenomenal organizational abilities, it went very smoothly with smiling, welcoming volunteers working efficiently. The workshop room was a large lovely banquet room with a good wooden floor and high stage which allowed everyone to see the instructors. The Workshop ran from 9:30-5:20 with a lunch break during which dancers moved into a separate room where boxed lunches had been set out for them. I taught three classes and Arline and Marilyn McNeal two each. Between us we taught a range of Beginner to Intermediate dances (see names below). There was every level of dancer there from three dancers who had only been dancing for a month to those who had danced for years. It was quite a mix. For the vast majority this was the first workshop they had ever attended. Our hope was that there would be something for everyone and to our delight it seemed to work! They were certainly a very responsive, welcoming and patient group of dancers. Tired but cheerful at the end of the classes, the dancers headed off for dinner with many of them returning for the review session and evening dance, colorfully dressed in keeping with the Fiesta theme. The DJ was the very pleasant Jan Ramsey who kept the floor full until finally the dancers' feet started to protest!!!
The next day Jean took me out touring on her golf cart and I even got to have a go! In the evening we ended up at the Sumter Landing Town Square for some dancing. No wonder so many people are coming to the line dance classes - they see how much fun it is on the Square and they want to do it as well!!! The musicians catered to the dancers and there was a large audience enjoying the lively spectacle. From there we headed off to Carol Simmon's class. A very good dancer, Carol lives six months in the UK where she teaches also, and six in The Villages. She has an impressive memory and brings back many popular UK dances to teach and her students obviously enjoy her dance choices. In Carol's absence the twins Margaret Koll and Rose Knosp take over. Margeret does the teaching and Rose handles the music. What lively sisters these two are, full of fun and great dancers.
Tuesday is Jean's long teaching day; she has classes both in the morning and the afternoon. I should note that there are well over 100 dancers in each of her classes. Dancers arrive well ahead of time so they can get close to the front. Jean is very popular and the dancers appreciate her patience, clarity and obvious desire to ensure that they enjoy their classes. I was happy to review 'Clap Your Hands' with the beginners and they seemed to have fun with 'Ami Oh'. The next group impressed me with how well they danced 'Soft & Slow' and then I reviewed 'On My Mind' and I was delighted when a number of dancers told me this is their current favorite. It was also a thrill during my time there to see 'Wishes', 'Fiddlesticks', 'Still Waters' and 'Good To Me' still on the dance floor.
Before Jean and her husband, Dick, retired and moved down to Florida she was a primary school teacher which she loved. However, she had other jobs before that including working as the Sheriff's Secretary (her father-in-law was the Sheriff!) and then as the Deputy
Prothonotary (I said the same thing ... "What on earth is that? It sounds very serious!" and Jean told me it is translated as Clerk of the Court Records) in the County Courthouse which is where she first became involved in genealogy research which is a particular interest of hers. The skills needed for this type of research match those needed by teachers of young children, lots of patience, perseverance and excellent organizational ability and Jean has all these in droves, plus she has enormous stamina. The line dance community in The Villages was sure lucky the day that Jean saw line dancing in the Square and reckoned that she just had to learn it and she hasn't looked back. I should add that the community is very fortunate in the caliber of all of its line dance teachers and also the fact that they work so well together.
All too soon it was time to make the return journey to Toronto. I had the most terrific time with the line dancers and their instructors in The Villages and would like to thank them for making me feel so welcome. For any of you wanting to check it out, get out your dancing shoes, have a look at The Villages' website -- www.thevillages.com -- and go visit ... you won't regret it.
HEART OF AN ANGEL by William Brown
PART-TIME LOVER by Dee Musk
MIX IT UP by The Girls
BELLA BELLA by Cato Larsen
BUT I DO by Pat Stott
DO IT by Gerard Murphy
BROKEN HEARTED ROCK & ROLL by Vikki Morris & Karl Cregeen
ALL TOGETHER NOW by Barbara Lowe