A year ago during Older Americans Month (okay, I’m a week late) I wrote about marveling at James Earl Jones’ and Cicely Tyson’s performances in The Gin Game. This time I’d like to tell you about another talented individual that I know personally. Al Boudreau started taking dance lessons at 12 years old. Sixty-seven years and two knee replacements later, Al is still going strong. In addition to teaching ballroom dance classes in Windsor Locks Connecticut, Al hosts and DJ’s a monthly Ballroom Dance for his students and the public to enjoy their newly acquired talents. I met Al in the 1990’s through my friend Lucille. She invited Al down from Connecticut to see a play she was directing for the theater company with which we were both working. Al comes down to NY periodically and I keep up with his life mostly through Lucille (including a group trip to Niagara Falls). When I heard he was still teaching I reached out to ask him about his life and dancing.
Ed Friedman: Where did you grow up?
Al Boudreau: I was born and raised in Enfield, CT.
EF: How did you get started as a dancer?
AB: I began dancing lessons at age 12 after refusing at age 5 when my parents took me.
EF: Did you have any mentors?
AB: I began studying dance with Donald Chrichton, best known as the lead dancer on the “Carol Burnett Show”. I then went on to major in tap dancing with Billy Austin, an ex-Vaudeville performer, who taught dance until he was 76 years old.
EF: When did you start teaching?
AB: I held my first dance recital in 1963 and in June of 2008, 45 years later, I held my final recital. In between I choreographed many musicals for St. Gabriel Church in Windsor, CT in the 1970’s as well as shows at Bay Path College in Longmeadow, MA and for The Opera House Players formally known as the St. Martha Players. I also played a key role as director for the Ms. Senior Connecticut Pageant.
EF: How did you integrate dance into the rest of your life?
AB: I worked in a construction company for 36 years as Office Manager and Bookkeeper while I was teaching and doing choreography. In 2001 I began a gradual retirement from my full time job.
EF: What age groups have you worked with?
AB: Worked with age 4 to adults, now I work only with adults.
EF: How do you respond to people that say they can’t dance?
AB: My motto is, “If you can count to 8, you can dance!”
EF: What has been your biggest challenge?
AB: My biggest challenge was a student with an artificial leg. The audience didn’t realize she had a prosthesis until she had to walk down a flight of stairs in the grand finale. When her class came down she had to go one step at a time, a sigh came of the audience because, it was then, they realized she had a prosthesis.
EF: What advice would you give someone that wants to do this work?
AB: Have patience.
EF: Tell us a short story from one of your classes that demonstrates the benefits of dance instruction for participants.
AB: One of my adult ballroom students came to me at one of my monthly dances that I host and sat with me at the DJ station. She proceeded to tell me that ballroom dancing brought her and her husband close again, She said “I want to thank you for giving me my husband back”. I considered that one of my biggest compliments.
EF: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in continuing to teach dance?
AB: I am very, very lucky to keep doing what I like to do. I’ve been thru two knee replacements and still continue to teach. I’m not even aware that my knees are not mine.
EF: What are your current teaching assignments?
AB: I currently teach ballroom which includes: Rumba, Merengue, Salsa, Mambo, Swing, Tango, Cha-Cha, Samba, Two Step, Jitterbug, Fox Trot, Waltz, and Polka.
EF: Do you dance outside of teaching?
AB: Yes, I do, at my dances certain wives will come and dance with me when their husbands don’t like a certain kind of dance, like the Polka for instance. One lady comes to dance with me at every dance because her husband doesn’t do the Polka and she loves it – and – is very good at it.
EF: Why do you continue to teach and what affect has it had on your life?
AB: It has kept me in shape, I still have stamina (can still out dance my students which are from 15 to 20 years younger than me) and I still love it and don’t consider it work.
Al is a great reminder of what I said last year at this time:
If there’s something you’ve been doing that gives you joy, don’t stop unless you have to. And if you do have to, come up with a plan B.
Artwork by Lisa Curran
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