By Sue Weakley
Dressage guru Jane Savoie is known for dancing with horses having won three National Freestyle Championships, but now she’s branched out into another form of dancing: competitive ballroom.
She took it up two years ago and now, at age 65, Jane is the poster child for maintaining an active lifestyle.
“I think that it’s so important for people to not feel like, ‘OK. I’ve just gotten my Medicare card. How could I possibly start a new adventure like this? Especially one so physical?’” she said. “I think it’s encouraging for people who are in my age group who maybe have stopped dreaming a little bit to realize that there’s no expiration date on having a dream and going for it and staying fit and staying vibrant.”
Jane is no neophyte when it comes to staying busy.
She has been a member of the United States Equestrian Team and competed for the U.S. in Canada, Holland, Belgium, France and Germany. She was the Olympic dressage coach for the Canadian Three-Day Event Team for the 1996 Atlanta and the 2014 Athens Olympic Games. She also coached several top dressage and three-day event riders in their preparations for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and, while in Sydney, she helped rider Susan Blinks secure a bronze medal for the U.S. dressage team. She has written five books and has collaborated on eight more.
And then she started dancing.
“This started a couple of years ago when I was at an expo in Virginia and I was talking to someone who came by my booth,” she explained. “I said it was on my bucket list to be in Las Vegas as a showgirl for a week. I thought that would be really fun to be a senior citizen showgirl. I’ll train for a week and they can put me at the end of a chorus line and they can hide me behind a palm tree. Then this person said, ‘You really should be on Dancing With the Stars.’”
That got Jane thinking and with that in mind, she started dancing lessons.
“I got completely and totally addicted to it,” she said. “It’s so much like dressage. The parallels are always freaky. The contact and the connection and the power coming from the standing leg and not the moving leg. Collection. Engagement. The parallels are so crazy.“
She added that she enjoys the creative and artistic aspects of ballroom dancing.
“I look at a dressage arena and it’s like a canvas,” she said. “I’m painting a picture on a canvas. When I look at a dance floor, it’s also a canvas. It’s like living art.”
She said the talented dance instructors at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in West Palm Beach, Florida, thought it would be good for her to try a variety of eight different dances to see what appealed to her. However, with her detail-oriented dressage mindset, she wanted to focus on just a few dances so they happily customized and tailored Jane’s program to suit her goals of concentrating on a few dances and doing them well.
“I said, ‘You have to understand. After 55 years on a 20-meter circle, I guarantee I will not get bored,’” she said. “They found out what I wanted and adjusted it to the way I wanted to be taught. They found out I really love drilling down into the details and the nuances. We dissect stuff and talk about what happens when you engage a certain muscle on your right side and what that does to your left side. I’m 100 percent mentally and physically engaged in what we’re doing.“
She hadn’t planned on competing, but after attending a competition, she fell in love with the gorgeous gowns and costumes.
“It’s like dressing up,” she said. “They do your hair and make-up. It’s like being Cinderella.”
She’s found that she especially enjoys competition and that there are levels of expertise and competition, just as in dressage. She also appreciates the performance aspect of ballroom dancing.
“Each dance has a particular character and you’re basically acting when you do these dances,” she said. “Waltz is very dreamy and like a princess, foxtrot is kind of cheeky and fun, and rhumba is very sexy and sensual. Every dance has a character so you not only have to connect with your partner but you have to connect with the audience because you have to show the character of the dance within your attitude and your face.”
Jane added, “I wanted to dance for the same reasons I wanted to do dressage. And now, I’m completely addicted to dance.”
Jane hopes to realize her dream of competing on Dancing With the Stars and has a Facebook page devoted to the cause, Equestrian Jane Savoie on Dancing With the Stars (www.facebook.com/JaneSavoieDWTS).
All photos by Rhett Savoie, unless noted otherwise