Blaine couple finds strength through dance

Published on Wed, Feb 19, 2014 by Nathan Dalla Santa

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Semiahmoo residents Jonathan and Carolyn Huggett can attest to the power of dance. On December 6, 2013, the 62-year-old couple, originally from England, placed tenth for ballroom dancing in the over-55 division of the World Dance Council’s world championship in Paris, France. However, years before their success at the highest levels of competitive dance, ballroom was
 the Huggetts’ salvation in the face of tragedy.

The Huggetts began ballroom dancing on a whim in 2000, after a dancing date with friends in England. What they thought was going to be a casual evening of casual dancing turned out to be far more strenuous and the couple found themselves out of their element. However, a born competitor, Jonathan decided to make sure they would be better prepared for the next night they went out dancing with those friends, and they started taking lessons.

Their instructor, an accomplished Russian dancer, believed the only way to truly learn something is to dive into the deep end. By 2003, the couple was dancing competitively. They were modest at first, dancing in lower-tier competitions, but by 2006, they grew the nerve to compete at the championship level. Unfortunately, that’s when tragedy struck.

After coming home from their first championship-level competition, the couple learned their son Ed, a 25-year-old commercial pilot, had died. He was flying a twin-engine passenger plane when one of the engines failed. Ed was able to land the plane without a total loss of life, but he and three passengers lost their lives.

“We came home from the competition elated, only to face the very worst,” Carolyn said. “Of course we thought that was the end for our dancing.”

But it wasn’t the end. After talking with their coach, the couple grew determined – they had to keep dancing. The ballroom became their grief counselor and they began practicing six days a week.

“When it got too tough to deal with, we danced,” Jonathan said. “That’s when we really became fanatical about it.”

Eight years later, Jonathan and Carolyn are well accomplished in the dance scene. It’s hard work competing at a championship level and the Huggetts’ improvement has been tremendous. When they began dancing together, simple things  like keeping tempo with the music were their main concern. Now, as championship competitors, the Huggetts fret about finer nuances, such as whether the “questions and answers” of their movements are in concert with the music.

Carolyn’s background has been a great help to the couple’s rise to ballroom prominence. As a teenager Jonathan was more interested in playing cricket than dancing, and he says an ear for the music doesn’t come naturally to him. Luckily, Carolyn was a dancer from an early age. The daughter of a dance instructor, Carolyn began dancing by age three and later, as a schoolteacher, taught both music and dance to children.

While Carolyn can help Jonathan with the music, the physical demands of dancing are obstacles they have to overcome together. One of the main challenges of getting older is staying healthy. Dancing requires Jonathan and Carolyn to keep in good health, but also helps them do so by burning calories and keeping joints limber.

“So You Think You Can Dance can’t touch the athleticism of a live ballroom dancer,” Jonathan said, referencing the popular American reality television show that premiered in 2005. “It’s truly incredible and, at our level, we have to cross-train,” Jonathan says. “We do Zumba here in town, go to the gym, go for walks and practice dancing, of course.”

As time passes and the loss of their son grows more distant, the therapeutic value of dancing remains the most powerful aspect of the Huggetts’ shared passion. Anyone who lives to be 62-years-old is bound to suffer some sort of personal tragedy and the only way to transcend that pain is to find a healthy escape, Jonathan says. The Huggetts find that escape together, hand in hand on the dance floor, when nothing else exists but the music, the movements and each other.