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Dancing Toward Her Dream

Would a 61-year-old former math teacher dare to compete in the country-western dance world championship?

By Merry Keller, Shreveport, Louisiana

As appeared in

Here I was, standing on the dance floor in my white cowboy boots, ready to compete at the 2012 United Country Western Dance Council World Championships. Me! I still couldn’t believe it! And not because I was 61 years old (well, that too, I guess).

No, I once dreamed of being a dancer. My mom even said I danced before I could walk. What happened? Life happened, that’s what. And I don’t regret any of my choices. My blessings have been rich. But when I decided to try dancing again a few years earlier, my dream had nearly been crushed for good.

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It was December 2008 and I was watching a Christmas Showcase—a variety of dance performances—put on by Sandy’s Dance Center in Shreveport, where I was taking ballroom dance classes to learn some new steps.

The school’s dancers were partnered with professionals, and their moves were so impressive that it was all I could do not to get out there with them.

“This is fantastic!” I said to a friend sitting next to me. “I’m going to ask my teacher how I can get in on the next showcase.”

“Merry,” she said, turning toward me, “the professionals are picky about who they work with...and, well, you’re just not good enough.”

Her tone was gentle but her words stung like a slap in the face. I had never doubted my talent before.

Back in my hometown of Victoria, Texas, I was pirouetting in my tutu by the time I was eight. Soon I was taking jazz and tap and performing in recitals. When the audience erupted in applause, I just knew I belonged out there. Dancing brought me more joy than I’d ever known. It was truly a gift.

At Kilgore College I majored in math and made the famed Kilgore Rangerettes precision dance team. Being a Rangerette boosted my confidence and fueled my passion for dance, but making a career out of it just didn’t seem practical.

After graduation I was offered a good job as a high school math teacher. Well, I decided, dancing is God’s gift, for sure. But that doesn’t mean I have to make my living at it. I would still find some way to dance.

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Over the years, though, dancing took a backseat to marriage, working and raising three kids. I longed to perform again, to feel that indescribable joy it brought me. But I hardly had time to even think about it, let alone take a class.

It wasn’t until 2008, two years after I’d retired from teaching, that it hit me: My dream had been left behind for 40 years! I was 59 years old, divorced, and my kids were grown. I was free to dance again.

Later that year I moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, to be near Alan, the man I’d fallen in love with. I fell in love with Shreveport’s colorful dance scene too, and signed up for ballroom classes at Sandy’s.

From my first practice it was as if I’d never stopped. And sitting there in the studio, watching the Christmas Showcase, I’d felt so sure I could join it the following year. Then I’d heard those words: “You’re just not good enough.”

At dinner that night, I talked to Alan. “Honey, is she right?” I asked. “Be honest with me.”

“Merry, you’ve got real talent,” he said, “and a dream big enough to go with it. Don’t let go of it.”