Age can’t stop the beat for 88-year-old dance student

Jim Jeffrey Jr., 88, practices his dance moves with partner Ann Welty during a ballroom dancing class Friday at Dance Etc.. (Frederick News-Post/Graham Cullen)

Jim Jeffrey has chasséd full circle, and it took only 70 years.

Jeffrey thought learning to dance would help him meet girls and become more popular. So at age 17, he took up ballroom dancing. But it didn’t last long.

The next year, Jeffrey was drafted into the Army Air Force, and he spent the next 2 1/2 years flying combat planes in the U.S.

Once home, dancing wasn’t exactly a priority; instead, Jeffrey focused on starting a family and a business.

“My wife didn’t like dancing,” he said.

He pondered a career in banking, earned a degree in business and got into the family construction business.

Jeffrey did not dance again until about three years ago, when his wife was diagnosed with dementia. Her round-the-clock care at a nursing home left him with time to pursue his long-lost interest.

But few studios cater to an 88-year-old in search of a foxtrot partner.

“They looked at me sort of funny,” he said with a laugh.

On a recommendation from a kids-only dance studio, Jeffrey met Walkersville instructor Jessica Barnett three years ago.

Once a week, Jeffrey drives from Thurmont for his one-hour private lesson.

“He’s been the most dedicated client that I have,” Barnett said.

And the oldest.

Jeffrey’s age surprised Barnett, who said she would not have guessed it based on his level of activity.

She holds nothing back for him.

“Anything I do with anyone else, I do with him,” she said about her teaching techniques. “He hasn’t hurt himself before.”

Jeffrey has learned a little bit of everything, from the foxtrot and waltz to salsa and swing. And he often demonstrates dance moves for Barnett’s group classes.

“I’ve been lucky,” he said with a smile. “I’m pretty agile.”

It did not take long for Jeffrey to realize he couldn’t make much progress in ballroom dancing without a steady partner. After four attempts, he found someone suitable for a six-lesson course. But he worries his 77-year-old partner leads him in the dances, instead of letting him guide them across the floor.

Jeffrey’s eyes light up when he talks about his favorite ballroom dances — the rumba and the two-step.

“They can be done on a small floor,” he said, adding that the moves are easier for someone his age.

After a lifetime of wanting to dance, Jeffrey is still rather private about his new endeavor. He does not perform for crowds, and only his daughter and granddaughter have seen a video of him dancing; his two sons and three other grandchildren have never seen him dance.

Jeffrey paused when asked what it was that made him want to pick up dancing so late in life.

“To finish something I started,” he said. “Something that was just hanging there.”

After three years of lessons, he still considers himself a work in progress.

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