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Learning from a nonagenarian

Published June 11. 2011 09:00AM

It is another steamy day in the season we here in southwest Florida call Almost Summer.

Summer doesn't sneak in like a timid cat here in our version of Paradise. It pounces early, pushing away spring and bringing the blazing sun that saps energy as quickly as a dog can devour dinner.

I'm feeling like the dog's dinner after working outside in the yard for a few hours. I don't think I have the energy to get dressed and go dancing.

But I have an interview scheduled with two local ballroom dancers who are truly exceptional.

Newspaper writers are taught not to use superlatives. But it's hard to talk about Ginger Jones and her partner, Bill Hurst, without using superlatives. I don't think I've ever heard anyone mention them without using the word "amazing."

"You know what's really amazing about Ginger? I heard she was 86 years old," said one woman as she watched Ginger do her balletlike moves across the floor.

There's an old slogan for newspaper reporters that says: "If your mother says she loves you, check it out."

So I do what any newspaper writer would do - I go to the source.

"You two are incredible dancers," I tell Ginger and her partner. I also tell them I just heard she was 86.

"Oh, no, dear," says Ginger. "I'm 90. I turned 90 in January."

"I'm 90 also," says Bill Hurst, the smooth dancer who inspires others to watch the pair in admiration.

They barely look 70 and they dance all night as if they were 30. What nifty nonagenarians, I think, as I make plans to interview them Friday night at a local dance.

There was a reason I started this column telling readers about the energy-sapping weather on the day of the interview. It was so hot I was thinking Ginger and Bill might not go.

"Oh, no, Dear," says Ginger, "We're been dancing all day. This is the third place we danced today."

They explain they started the day dancing for three hours at two locations then worked their way down to the highway to dance again.

They follow their favorite dance bands, showing up early and staying until the last strains of the last dance fill the hall. And everywhere they go, they win new fans.

Count me among them. I always enjoy myself more when I see Ginger - simply because she's always having such a good time that it's contagious.

Always immaculately groomed and elegantly dressed in a gown or sparkling outfit, Ginger commands attention for her appearance as well as her grace on the dance floor.

Her appearance belies the fact that she has macular degeneration and can't see detail.

"If I ever don't talk to you, it's because I can't see faces very well," says Ginger. "I have to get up close to your face before I'll know who it is."

But that's no problem when they go dancing because many people gravitate over to their table to talk with the Reigning Couple of Ballroom Dancing.

Ginger says she starting dancing when she was 16 but she never took a lesson. For 20 years during her marriage, she seldom danced, she says.

When her husband of many years died in 2005, Ginger says she had two choices: "I could sit home alone, or, I could call friends and ask them to take me with them when they go dancing."

Because she can't drive, she had even more of a problem arranging to get out of the house. But she did it.

"It's hard for a woman to get the courage to go anywhere alone," admits Ginger. "I would just sit at the table, hoping someone would ask me to dance."

I've talked to a lot of women who say it's too hard to go anywhere alone. So they sit home, being hit with the real meaning of alone.

Because Ginger had the courage to go listen to bands without a partner, her life changed in ways she never expected.

It started when a widower named Bill asked her to dance.

"I noticed her right away because of her style and sense of timing," says Bill. He adds that Ginger was talking with another guy at the time, but that didn't stop him from giving her his card and asking for her phone number.

"She's an eloquent dancer and that's important to me," says Bill, who explains that he once managed an Arthur Murray dance studio in Ohio with 35 teachers.

They soon learned they were compatible on and off the dance floor. Although they do a lot of things together, their favorite activity is dancing and they claim they "can't get enough of it."

"We dance at least six times a week," says Ginger.

She has a happy life now. But I suspect Ginger would be happy at any age.

Although people keep coming up to her saying they can't believe she can dance like that at 90, she says age is something she never thinks about.

"The secret is to stay active," she says. "Don't sit home alone. Get out there and do something."

With Ginger as one of my motivating forces, I do stay active, even when it's hot and I'm tired.

If she and her partner are examples of the life one can have at 90, then I'm not afraid of growing old.

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