Despite all the good-natured ribbing Bill took, I had
the impression that Ann was incredibly supportive. It
didn't take me long to figure out that Bill actually
enjoyed his wife's constant fussing because he knew it was
her way of showing her love. To Bill, Ann's comments
weren't criticism, but rather more a form of coaching and
Bill wanted to
master the Polka to impress and please his wife. I got
the feeling that Bill was enjoying having a new challenge in
his life. A highly intelligent man, Bill found
learning to dance could be just as tricky as an intricate
puzzle. Most of all, I think Bill enjoyed taking on a
challenge that his wife could participate in. I think
Bill understood how much fun Ann had on the dance floor, so
he had a powerful desire to make dancing together as
pleasurable as he possibly could. Dancing became a new
and very special way to show his love to his wife.
I know these
things because I watched them both carefully. As a
dance teacher, more often than not I see people who are
recently divorced and totally convinced the ideal of a
lifetime of love between a man and a woman is a total myth.
For all the cynicism in the world, Ann and Bill stood as
shining testimony to the power of love in a lasting
realized how powerful their relationship is. Ann
always looked out for Bill. There was no doubt in his
mind that Ann was right by his side at all times. Bill
was calm, steady, and easy-going. He was very
confident, yet so modest I had no idea of Bill's many
lifetime accomplishments. From what I gather, Bill was
a highly respected veterinarian who became president of
several professional organizations.
accomplishment I was unaware of was Bill's lifetime fight
against Type 1 diabetes. A doctor friend of mine said
it is a "miracle" for a man to survive into his seventies
with such a serious medical problem. She added most
men with similar problems consider themselves fortunate to
make it to 50. The doctor concluded that Bill's
uncanny self-discipline and his own medical background
allowed him to beat the long odds. Adding twenty years
to his life span was remarkable.
It was my
impression that Bill was an anchor of sorts to Ann.
Bill made Ann so content and happy that she in turn wanted
to share her happiness with as many people as humanly
possible. His strength allowed Ann to become a
marvelous social dynamo. I noticed how Ann loved to go
from person to person sharing her warmth, and then she would
always return to Bill to recharge her battery.
Bill's Strong Desire to Learn
I have a hunch
that Ann knew how to encourage Bill to constantly grow as a
human being in small ways and big ways. Ann definitely
knew how to keep her husband on his toes in dance class! Ann used an
intricate mixture of praise and razzing to let him know she
was both appreciative and expectant. And it
worked. For a man who is in his seventies, Bill was
very good at his dancing to begin with. However it was
his work ethic that I appreciated the most. Bill
worked harder than any man I have ever met to learn the
Once Bill got
the hang of a pattern, he would write a note down to help
him remember it later.
Naturally I was
intrigued, so I asked Ann about Bill's note-taking.
Ann said he takes his dancing very seriously. She said
whenever he gets home, Bill transfers his notes to his
computer. I nodded my approval. Taking notes is
a powerful aid to the memory in dancing, but transferring
them a second time to the computer really helps to lock in the
material. I could see he took a far deeper approach to
learning to dance than most men. I had a hunch this
had been his style throughout his life.
The extra study
paid off. Not
surprisingly, Bill would always ace the review I would
conduct in each following week. Combined with his
alert mind, his note-taking allowed him to absorb material
at an impressive clip.
was delighted to discover that she and I were kindred spirits.
We both like to tease, so I quickly became her partner in crime. Together we
would gang up on Bill. Each week in dance class Ann would
find some opportunity to set him up and let me finish him off.
writing me frequent notes about his progress. I don't
think Ann will mind if I share her commentary.
"Hey Rick, Yesterday was fun. These basic fundamentals
are really helping us. Thank you so much. Bill asked me
to remind you to bring the print out for the polka
steps. See you tonight. Ann"
So I emailed Ann
the entire syllabus.
"Thank you so much
for the syllabus. Bill
and I have had lessons before, and have been working on
it, but these basics are great. You are
such a good teacher!! Ann"
Synchronized Polka, Bill and Ann moved on to Western Swing
with its tricky Double Turns. I was impressed with how
well Ann did with the double turns. She picked them up
quickly, so I complimented her. Ann told me that
she had been an athlete all her life... golf, tennis, etc.
Dancing was a natural extension of her love of sports.
Way to Begin a Friendship
As I felt more
comfortable with Bill and Ann, our relationship entered a
new dimension - I began dancing with Bill!
Lest there be
any misunderstanding, let me explain. Teaching men how
to lead isn't the easiest thing. No matter how much I
demonstrate and tell the men what to do, at some point there
is a "feel" to leads. If something is wrong, I may not
be sure what it is just by watching. So the fastest
way to figure out any flaw in technique is to dance as a
"Follow" for 30 seconds or so and see what the lead feels
like. I can usually diagnose what is wrong on the
spot and find a way to correct it.
However, due to
societal prohibitions about men dancing together, some men
are very reluctant to participate. Typically, the men who
are the most motivated to improve are also the ones most accepting of this unusual
maneuver. Bill fit into this group. To Bill's credit, he
wasn't too sure about this idea, but he was willing to trust
me if I thought it would help. He was surprised to see
me immediately spot his mistake and offer a quick solution.
Bill was sold on my unusual technique. From this point
on, we might dance for 20 seconds or so once or twice a
night. Thanks to his trust, I was able to help
him improve rapidly.
There was only
one problem - Ann was greatly amused. She grinned from ear
to ear watching poor Bill recover from the shock of dancing
with a man. She teased both of us
endlessly for the rest of the class. Ann's favorite
ploy was to call me over whenever a move wasn't working.
"Hey Rick, Bill isn't doing it right! He wants to
dance with you. Come over here and fix him!"
Bill would roll
his eyes, I would grin, and we would dance while Ann howled
with glee. Ann was such a trouble maker! But she
was also a sweetheart. Ann made every dance class an
adventure for everyone.
"Rick, Thank you so much for taking care of Bill
yesterday. He had a ball and told me to email you for
another list of the dance steps. See you tonight.
Be sure you don't let Bill make any mistakes! Ann"
Bill and Ann's
next class was Three Step. There is a range of Western
music where the Polkas are
too fast and the Twosteps are too slow. Music between
130-150 beats per minute can be very tricky to dance to.
Think Lying Eyes by the Eagles.
One day I
noticed that certain Foxtrot patterns worked just fine to
this speed range. Curious, I played a Western song and
discovered that three step Foxtrot patterns could be easily
adapted to Western
dancing. I told Ann and Bill I was going to teach an
experimental course in the "Threestep" and asked them if they
wanted to give it a try. Sure!
delight, the patterns indeed worked like a charm to music
that previously had been difficult to dance to. Soon
after the class started, I got a sweet thank you note from
"Rick, We went to the Wild West last night with Avants,
Hrncirs and Hudsons. This song came up and they
all said this is too slow, well Bill said come on and we
did our three step. Bill got A+ while those other
boys just sat on their behinds!! Ann"
potshot referred to
a splendid rivalry that had developed between Bill and Ann and their
close friends Larry and Bette Avant.
Bill and Ann
started dancing a few years ago when their son BJ invited
them to join a dance class at their church,
Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
John Williamson was their teacher. John introduced
Bill and Ann to Ballroom dancing and encouraged them to go
dancing with him at Chandelier Ballroom on occasional
Like everything else,
Bill doesn't do anything halfway. Pretty soon he was
hooked. He saw how much Ann liked to dance with him,
so he determined he needed to get better at this dancing
stuff. The next
thing Ann knew, she and Bill were taking Ballroom classes,
Hustle classes, and Western classes two and three nights a
Naturally Ann told her
friend Bette Avant about the dancing. Bette and Ann
had met through tennis back in the Seventies and became best
friends. Throughout the next thirty years, both ladies
stayed very close. When
Bette discovered their
new hobby, she was really pleased. Bette had been
trying to talk Ann into taking dancing lessons for years.
Now that Bill
was a dancer, the two ladies suggested their husbands take
them dancing at the Petroleum Club downtown. Naturally
since Larry and Bette had a head start in dancing, they were
much more comfortable out on the dance floor. Both
Bill and Ann are competitive by nature, so one look at Larry
and Bette was all it took. Bill and Ann nodded to each
other. "We're going to catch those guys!"
One day Bette
let it slip that she and Larry had been taking private
lessons from me. Ann was immediately outraged.
No fair! With all that extra coaching, how were she
and Bill going to catch up with Larry and Bette now?
That gave Ann an idea. So Ann asked Bette about me and
got my email address. Ann had decided to fight fire
with fire, so she contacted me about lessons.
Almost from the
moment Ann and Bill showed up in my dance class back in July
2012 for the first time, Ann made it clear she expected me to make Bill so
wonderful that he would make Larry envious. Mind you,
this was all done in fun, but if you know Bill and Ann, then you
know they were perfectly serious about catching up to their best
friends on the dance floor. Nothing wrong with a
little spirited competition between friends...
Well, I'm not
stupid. This was a dance teacher's dream. I
immediately began to play both teams against each other.
I would tell Larry and Bette how good Bill and Ann were
doing and note the look of concern on their faces. I
would tell Bill and Ann how well Larry and Bette were doing
and note the look of determination on their faces.
Meanwhile both couples were signing up for lessons right and
I might add with
a smile that both couples knew perfectly well the game I was
playing. We all teased each other... "Bill's gaining
on you, Larry!"... and laughed ourselves into a tummy ache.
Bette suggested that Larry should bribe me to teach Bill how
to dance a move the wrong way. Nothing like a little
sabotage between friends. This goofy rivalry was marvelous fun.
As part of the
rivalry, now poor Larry became a target for Ann's withering commentary.
We went to the Wild West last night with
Hrncirs and Hudsons. This song came up and they
all said this is too slow, well Bill said come on and we
did our three step. Bill got A+ while those other
boys just sat on their behinds!!
I noted that
Larry Avant was included in the group of men who didn't dance. I asked Ann
what Larry's excuse was. After all, I had taught Larry
the same Threestep patterns that Bill knew. So why Larry didn't get out
at Wild West and dance the Threestep
like Bill did?
was her answer.
"Oh, that Larry, maybe he did dance, but how would I know?
Larry only enters the dance floor when the song is half
over. I am long gone by then. By the way, we are going to Nashville and will be back
hopefully for lesson on Sunday. Ann"
Curious, I asked
Ann why Larry only enters the dance floor when the song is
"That poor boy is such a mess. Larry claims he
only knows enough good moves for a half a song.
Why not make people think he is wonderful and sit down
before they change their mind?"
I smiled with
delight. Then I frowned and made a mental note to
NEVER give Ann something to tease me about.
About this time,
Bill and Ann agreed to come early to Chapelwood Methodist
Church one night and help me learn a group Waltz dance.
I have made a career out of teaching partner dancing, but I
have always had a soft spot for "group dances".
Long-time SSQQ dancers may remember the Barn Dance, the
Virginia Reel and the Beer Barrel Polka that I used to teach
as part of our annual Hoedown Western party. So when I
saw a video of a cute Waltz group dance, I was determined to
learn it and teach it on the upcoming cruise.
That night at
Chapelwood, we had a great time trying to figure out how the
different Waltz patterns worked. In particular, Bill
got the biggest kick out of helping figure out the patterns. The next day I got an
email from Ann.
"Bill loved that waltz pattern you showed us last night.
He wants to know if it is the waltz you are going to
teach on the Magic boat trip.
And we really
want to learn to polka and two step well. Bill
studies it on the computer and every time we go dancing
he goes over everything in advance. He is a good
student and I am lucky to have him. Just hope
things will go well for you with your problems and we
will be praying for you. Ann
remember the last time anyone offered to pray for me, but I
was going through a tough stretch and needed all the help I
could get. Unfortunately the praying didn't help as
the Magic trip turned out to be a very rocky voyage.
But that's another story.
The point is
that I had begun to rely on Ann's constant praise and
support in much
the same way as Bill did. Ann has a way of making
everyone around her feel so much better. Just as Bill
was inspired by his wife to become a better dancer, Ann
inspired me to become a better teacher. I might add
that I noticed more than once that I always became a better
person when Bill and Ann were around.
About this time,
I taught a very difficult course in Intermediate Foxtrot
patterns at Chapelwood. This was the most difficult
class I had ever taught at Chapelwood in two years.
The patterns were very intricate and required a series of precise leads.
surprisingly, Bill was flustered by some of the material.
He and I began to dance together several
times a night while I explained what he needed to do to make
this pattern work or that pattern work. About this time,
Bill decided he needed to videotape the patterns at the end
of each class so that he could study them at home. From what I gather, Bill filled an
entire hard drive with the patterns I taught. I was
pleased to help. Bill was easily the most dedicated
student I had ever met in my career. I could not have
been more proud of him. I might add that Ann's
constant encouragement had a lot to do with his progress.
She was always cheering for him!
Here's a good
example of Ann and Bill's typical interaction. Ann had twisted an ankle and was trying to
stay off it for a while.
"Rick, How did it go last night? We really missed not
being there. Dancing has become such a big part of our
lives. So boring not being able to dance this weekend.
So thankful for any chance to dance. Bill will see
you tomorrow night and I might come with him just to
make sure he does not make mistakes. We wouldn't want
him to get away with anything and I know you can't watch
him constantly. Ann"
Sure enough, Ann
came along and watched the class from the sidelines. At least two times she
whistled for me to come over and inspect Bill for a
suspected mistake. Bill would grin and complain that Ann
was making this all up just to harass him. At this
point, Ann would disagree and insist I dance with Bill just to be sure.
Ann would say, "Rick, I think Bill's footwork is broke. When I dance again, I don't want to be out
there with some amateur. See if you can fix him!"
So Bill and I
would dance, I would point out something, and Ann would
cackle with glee. "See! I told you Bill was
making a mistake!"
At the end of
the class, Ann decided she couldn't stand it anymore, so bad
ankle and all, she grabbed Bill for a spin around the floor.
The next day she wrote me this note:
"Boy, Bill is really doing good! For a second
there, thought I was dancing with Rick."
work every time. I concluded Ann was one smart cookie.
She had me wrapped around her finger just like
her husband. I always looked forward to every moment
with Ann and Bill.
November, Ann and Bill plus Larry and Bette invited
Marla and I to join them at the Petroleum Club for dinner
and a night of Western dancing. Of course Marla and I
were honored to be their guests.
"We will pick you up at 7 if we can find your house.
Also come hungry. Will have Bill call you and get
directions unless Bette and Larry want to come get you. Bill is really worried!
If he screws up, will he
have to dance with you at the Petroleum Club? Ann"
Marla and I had
a ball dancing at the Petroleum Club. It isn't often
Marla and I get to dance just for the fun of it, so this was
a real treat for us. Marla had a big smile on her
face all night long. I think we all had fun.
Bill got to show off all his favorite Polka moves and not
once did I make him dance with me. Bill may have made
a mistake or two, but I looked the other way. Bill and
Ann were so kind to invite us that I thought maybe I could
spare the rod for this one night.
Naturally Ann had something to say about the evening.
"So much fun last night being with you and Marla!!!!!!
Hey, you just about killed me, you are such a big dancer
and you did dominate the dance floor. I loved every bit
of it and don't mind me. I'm so worn out I have to
complain a little. We are so glad the two of you had fun
together. See you tonight in class. Ann"
At this point,
the 2012 December holidays kicked in. I did not see Bill
and Ann for the entire month.
Imagine my joy when the
three of us
were reunited in January 2013. Bill
and Ann were back at Chapelwood for a new round of my Polka
classes. Naturally Ann
picked up right where she left off. Nothing had
changed. Bill was still working his
butt off and Ann was still teasing him about everything.
That first night at
Chapelwood when I danced with Bill, I noticed a
new development - Bill was getting pretty good! After dancing
non-stop two and three nights a week for the past six months, Bill
had improved dramatically. Ann noticed it
too. Naturally Ann had
to offer a comment about his improvement.
"You know, Rick, I've been
watching you two dance. I am so worried that Bill is
starting to enjoy dancing with you. Please promise me
you won't make it too much fun for him! Ann"
Ann was right.
Bill and I had become such good friends that dancing
together was something we had begun to take for granted.
All the scandal of it was way in the past.
Consequently dancing together had now become the source for
much of our humor.
In January, Bill
and Ann started Scott Ladell's Friday night Hustle class at SSQQ.
I didn't mind at all. Anything my friend wanted to do to
improve was fine with me. However, that didn't stop me from
having fun at Bill's expense. Don't forget I was almost as
rotten as Ann when it came to teasing Bill.
The following Monday at Chapelwood, Bill let it slip that he really liked that
Hustle class. Big
mistake. I immediately raised a suspicious eyebrow.
Under my direct
questioning, Bill admitted he had danced with Scott, "but
only for a brief moment!" Of course I had to give Bill
a hard time about that. I was indignant. How
could he do that to me? I told Bill that even though
Scott was a good friend of mine, I was really jealous. Ann howled with delight at the
look that crossed poor Bill's face. I am not sure Bill
knew I was teasing.
As it turned
out, Scott's Hustle class opened a whole new world for Ann's
wicked sense of humor. The following week as
the three of us walked out to the parking lot after our
Chapelwood class, Ann was in rare form. "Rick,
guess what? Bill has a secret he doesn't want
you to know about. Bill likes dancing with you more than
any other man in the whole world!"
When I saw the
exasperated look on Bill's face, I just grinned. Of
all the things for his wife to say! If I could read
his mind, Bill felt utterly helpless to avoid being the
target of Ann's playful sense of humor. What would she
Well, now that
Bill's fondness for the Hustle class was apparent, I
challenged Bill to prove he was any good at the Hustle.
Bill was immediately up to the challenge. He could not
wait to show off! Bill took
Ann in his arms and moved her through an impressive series
of moves. Not bad, I said. Bill beamed with delight at
From that point
on, each week Bill
offered to show me the newest patterns that he learned in Scott's
Hustle class. I would
patiently watch Bill show off his complicated patterns with
Ann, then compliment him on his progress. I think Bill
enjoyed being the teacher's pet.
Soon enough Ann would start with the
mischief. "Rick, I saw Bill smiling when he danced
with Scott on Friday!"
I stared at Bill
in mock horror. "Oh no, you didn't! I don't
believe it. You danced with that other man again?
And you smiled? How
could you! Tell me it was just dancing. Tell me
it was nothing more or I will get upset."
Bill laughed and
reassured me that I was still his favorite... but gosh, that Scott
sure was a good dancer!
Touché! Bill was
finally dishing some of it back.
I started to
pout and accused Bill of liking Scott better. Ann
immediately chimed in, "Oh no, Rick, you're Bill's favorite!
Scott could never take you away from Bill!"
I know this all
sounds so silly, but dance class gave us all a chance to be
kids again. We would laugh so hard we would cry.
The laughter and warmth we shared was pretty wonderful.
week was yet another delicious opportunity for Ann and me to work our
double-team on Mr. Bill, our favorite victim. It became
increasingly clear that Ann and I were cut out
of the same mischievous cloth. Because Bill takes
teasing better than anyone in the world, Ann and I loved
to take turns picking on
him. We both had way too much fun at
game was "Don't make me have to call Rick". It was
part of our shtick that dancing with me was the
worst punishment imaginable. Medieval torture couldn't
be any worse.
would give Bill two or three chances to figure out how to do
the newest Polka move. Ann would warn Bill that if he
didn't get the move pretty soon, she would be forced to report him to me.
Bill would frown. Oh no, not that!
would try as hard as humanly possible to avoid dancing with
me. However, sooner or later, Ann would shrug
smile at Bill. "I am so sorry, Bill dear, but this is for your
own good." Then Ann would snap her fingers and
whistle, "Rick, yoo hoo, Bill wants to dance with you!"
game is on. So I would come
over and give Bill a couple more chances dancing with Ann to
avoid the inevitable horror of dancing with me. If he
got it right, I would spare him. But if he didn't make it work
after two tries, uh oh, too bad. Now I would lower the boom. I would open
my arms and tell him gee, this hurts me worse than it hurts
you, but get over here and dance with me. Bill
would complain in mock protest, but soon
enough we would proceed around the floor and I would
explain what the problem was.
Ann would roar with laughter at the wide variety of flustered expressions on
Bill's face. Bill would of course hear his wife making
fun of him and naturally he would
make faces back at her. But deep down Bill could not have cared less that Ann
was so deeply amused. Bill was always such a good sport about
his wife's teasing.
Meanwhile Ann was having
the time of her life. She would be talking the whole
time as Bill and I danced together. "You can do it, Bill, I
believe in you. Take that smaller step like Rick says.
Hurry up, I'm lonely!"
Bill would look
at me and I would look at him and we would both smile in
agreement. Ann was such a nut! Half the fun of
our dancing together was listening to what crazy thing Ann would say next.
All three of us were having way too good a time.
Although much of
what we did was in play, dancing with Bill continued to be
an effective training tool. Sure enough, Bill
would eventually figure out where he was getting in trouble
and smooth it out. At that point Ann would immediately kick in with the praise.
"Atta boy, that's my Bill!! Woohoo, you got it!
Good for you, honey!"
Bill's face would instantly light up
with immense satisfaction at Ann's applause. Bill had
just proven he could lick the problem. Now Ann would
reward him. She would
squeeze his hand, give him a big hug and say, "Look at you,
you're so smart!"
how those two loved each other. It was so remarkable
to watch them in action. It was easy to see why Ann
and Bill were just as much in love after 52 years of
marriage. I have never seen a happier, more contented couple.
Their incredible relationship was a constant inspiration to
Then came the day
when the Lord took Bill away. Bill had a heart attack
on the dance floor as he danced with Ann. I wasn't
there, but I heard about it immediately. I was stunned to
think a man with so much life in him could be gone so
Ann sent me this
Bill just went to heaven doing the Polka with a big
smile on his face. On his desk we found his notes
for his pattern we learned Monday night. He loved you
and you were his favorite dance partner. My love to
you and Marla. Ann"
It was so sad to
lose Bill. But I have to say I agree with Ann. What a way to go!
One minute Bill was dancing with his wonderful wife in his
next minute it was time to hit the big dance floor in the
sky. It was sad, yes, but it
was not a tragedy.
How can Bill's passing possibly be seen as a tragedy?
Bill McDougal enjoyed the happiest life of any man I have
Just as Ann said,
Bill died with a smile on his face. Bill left this
earth knowing he had lived life to the fullest and that he
had touched the hearts of so many people.
My memory of
Bill's greatness will never leave me. As you can see
from my story, his presence in my life affected me
profoundly. I honestly can say that Bill McDougal
showed me how I could become a better person. For
that, I am grateful.