My Career as a Ballroom Dancer
THE cha-cha, tango, samba, rumba and other exotic beats and rhythms made an early impression on me. They engendered within me an insatiable urge to get up and dance. Shortly after moving to Canada from Holland, at the age of 18, I took up dancing with the view of making it my profession.
Early in my career I met a female dancer who became my partner. I quit my other secular job, and for about a year we took lessons and practiced. Since our desire was to excel in the field, we realized that we had to go to London, England, for that was the place where champion dancers were trained.
I had become obsessed with the idea of becoming the Canadian champion in ballroom dancing. It didn’t take long to find out that I was not the only one who had the same ambition. In London I met couples from all over the world, all training hard to be the best in their own country.
We were fortunate to have as our coaches the then reigning world champions, as well as many ex-world champions. We often danced seven days a week, five to eight hours a day. To build and maintain the required physical strength, stamina and agility, we followed a strict diet and a rigorous schedule of exercises.
Due to the pressure of trying to do well, my partner and I had many an argument on the dance floor over who was making the mistakes. We used to call each other names and swear at each other. I had been a rather meek person, but my personality changed entirely. When I lost my temper I would hit my partner, and even drag her by the hair across the floor.
Our intensive training went on for about four years. We returned from England in 1965 when we had reached a standard high enough to rank among the best ballroom dancers in Canada. We won the Canadian championship that same year. But still I was not satisfied.
We went back to England for six months for further training. Eventually we won the Canadian championship three times in ballroom and Latin-American dancing. We also competed in the United States, winning every competition that we entered. We beat couples who previously had won the North American championships up to five times. Now that I had won over 150 trophies and medals, and had proved to be one of America’s best ballroom dancers, I still was not satisfied or happy.
My nerves were bad from being under strain, and my temper was even worse. My partner and I didn’t get along. The only reason we stuck together for seven years was that we realized that to get the limelight and glory we wanted there was no other choice. I decided it was time to go into business and start enjoying some of the benefits.
I was hired to train dancing teachers a few hours a week at one of Canada’s leading dancing schools. It was there that I met my wife-to-be. As a beginner, she was not allowed in my classes. However, I occasionally found the opportunity to speak to her. We fell in love, and within four months from the time that we met we were married, in 1968.
At the time, my intentions were to keep on dancing with my dance partner. However, my wife made it clear that she wanted to dance also. This was something that I hadn’t counted on. It meant starting all over again, because once the man is already trained it takes even a talented girl about two years to catch up. But did my wife have championship quality?
After giving her a foundation in dancing techniques myself, we went to London, England. There my own opinion was confirmed by world champion dancers; she had the ability, drive and talent. They predicted that she was going to be even better than my previous partner. For two years we slaved at dancing. And their prediction came true!
I could hardly wait to enter competitions with her. We had everything going for us. I already had made a name for myself by my previous accomplishments. We were all set to go, so I thought. But then she said that she was definitely not interested in entering any competitions.
This seemed strange to me, knowing how much she enjoyed dancing. “Why?” I asked, “Why?” To answer this question, we have to go back to when we first met.
A Matter of Religion
The name “Jehovah’s Witnesses” had come up once very early in our courtship. My wife-to-be on that occasion said she couldn’t see me because she had a Bible study. This was the first time that I had heard about this religious group. However, the incident was soon forgotten.
Two years went by, and one day my wife told me that she was going to study the Bible again with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I didn’t make any fuss, for I thought this was just a passing fancy. Besides, I had been a Roman Catholic all my life, and this had never interfered with my dancing.
However, soon after my wife started studying again I began to see changes. At this time miniskirts were the rage, and I liked them. That’s all my wife had ever worn, but all of a sudden, the length of her skirts and dresses dropped to knee-level. How embarrassed I was with her standing there in front of classes with anywhere from 30 to 90 students! But I gave in. Mind you, she had to promise me not to tell anyone why she changed her style of dress.
Next there was the embarrassment at social gatherings—no standing for national anthems, and no Christmas or New Year’s parties. Her explanations for her actions, at the time, did not satisfy me. I was beginning to get a little annoyed. I thought that those Witnesses must be a real crazy bunch. However, I was not too alarmed. My wife was still teaching and dancing as much as ever.
Slowly I began to use gentle persuasion to discourage her. I even arranged for us to go back to England to get her even more involved in dancing, but it was to no avail. They had Witnesses in England too. Then she wanted time off for meetings. Not once a week. Oh, no—three times! Now this meant losing teaching time, money. This was getting a little out of hand.
Gentle persuasion did not work. So I tried other tactics, but nothing seemed to succeed. As a matter of fact, the harder I tried to get her to drop “that stupid religion,” as I called it, the more determined she seemed to become. In a way I admired her stalwartness, her dedication to what she believed to be the truth. Yet, I could not agree. Then this last straw: no competitions.*
By this time I had devoted 13 years of my life to dancing. With sweat and hard work I had built a fine career, and was just beginning to reap the benefits. And my wife had worked hard too. I couldn’t figure it out. She had danced practically day and night for over two years to gain champion caliber. Now that she had achieved the goal that she had worked so hard to reach, was she just going to let it slip through her fingers?
For the next year or so I inflicted a great deal of suffering on my wife. At practice sessions I went wild at times, and treated her very badly. I also began to flirt with other girls to get even. I warned her never to mention a word about her religion to any of my students. And whenever she said something contrary to my Catholic beliefs, I became violently angry. Nevertheless, in due time, she got baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Our marriage was suffering and separation seemed inevitable.
The Beginning of a Change
Then the unexpected happened. For quite some time, my wife, seeing that she couldn’t talk to me, had left copies of the Awake! and Watchtower magazines lying around, in hopes that I might read them. This I did, occasionally at first. Then I found myself waiting for them. The information received from reading Awake! was beneficial. It kept me pretty well informed on important things that were taking place, and enabled me to talk to my students on many subjects.
Although at first I didn’t want to admit it, a lot of things discussed in The Watchtower made sense. I began to recognize the trueness of what it said about the attitude of people generally. However, I had thought that lying, stealing, swearing, backstabbing, gossiping and hatred were normal—the way things were meant to be. This doesn’t mean that I was happy with these conditions. But I failed to realize that there was something better.
The Effect of My Wife’s Conduct
Now I began to take note of my wife’s behavior. I could clearly see that she was different from other married and single women I knew. She dressed modestly. During all the time I mistreated her, she never once rebelled. Lying was unthinkable to her; she never got mixed up in gossip. What was most outstanding was the fact that she never flirted with anyone. Being a good-looking girl, many a man made passes at her.
Whereas at first I had attributed all these good qualities directly to her, I now began to realize that her beliefs, based on the Bible, gave her moral strength and a high standard of living. I began to accept the fact that she wouldn’t dance in competitions, and, in time, I even withdrew from them myself.
When I did, many of my so-called friends and fellow competitors, who had been doing a lot of backslapping and falling over me when I was “the star,” began to give me the cold shoulder. Sometimes I spitefully wanted to go back on the dance floor and show them up. However, I recalled a scripture in the Bible that indicates that such things are ‘vanity and a striving after the wind.’—Eccl. 1:14.
I was able to swallow my pride, and began to realize that all these years I had been on an ‘ego trip.’ I had danced only to win, to receive glory. Although it had benefited me financially, it had not brought me personal happiness.
Realizing a Truly Better Life
I agreed to study the Bible with a Witness. After visiting the Kingdom Hall a few times, as well as being with Jehovah’s Witnesses at social gatherings, I recognized them to be wholesomely different. They seemed happier than the people in my circle of associates. They were always talking about life on a paradise earth under God’s kingdom, which was a very appealing prospect to me. And the more I learned about the Bible and its promises of a better world, the more convinced I became that the Witnesses understood the truth of God’s Word.
What motivated me in particular was the assembly that I attended in 1973 at Woodbine Race Track, Toronto, Canada. There were over 30,000 people there, including children. Yet the place was kept tidy—no litter anywhere. Everybody worked together and they all seemed so happy. That’s when I really began to believe that the Witnesses’ preaching about a paradise right here on earth under God’s kingdom could be a reality. I had never seen anything like it.
I began to feel grateful to Jehovah God for helping my wife to make it through those difficult times with me. What if she had given in, or had left me? Instead, she chose to stay. What a blessing that has meant for us!
Even before I got baptized, we began telling our students about the Kingdom good news. Immediately Bible studies were started. Some responded very quickly. In time four got baptized, and others are studying. I have been appointed as a ministerial servant in the Christian congregation we attend, and my wife has the opportunity to auxiliary pioneer (to share in full-time preaching) at times. We are happier now than ever before in our marriage.
Getting a Proper Sense of Values
Are we still dancing? Yes, although we may not be the best, people still enjoy watching us perform, and our small dancing business provides us with all the material necessities of life. But what professional dancing could never give us we now have, namely, a fine relationship with Jehovah God. This brings us peace of mind and prospects for a better future—everlasting life in God’s new order.
We are no longer interested in winning corruptible trophies. Yet we are in a race, a race for eternal life. (1 Cor. 9:24-26) I would like to ask all those who are striving to become Number One in whatever art or sport it may be: ‘Is it worth all the hard work, effort, heartaches and sacrifices just to gain a corruptible trophy or medal? Why not get involved in a race where all faithful participants receive a prize, a race that will bring you true peace of mind and untold happiness?’
My wife and I did, and we are determined to keep running until we reach our promised goal, life under God’s kingdom on a paradise earth. And the Bible promise regarding this is not an empty one, for Jehovah God himself, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, has spoken it. (Rev. 21:3-5)—Contributed.
See in the Bible Galatians 5:26, New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.