Real Life

Come on, Eileen!

At 82, Eileen Stephens has learned to dance away the heartache.

Despite having a pacemaker fitted to fix a heart condition two years ago, she can’t stop dancing.

Eileen waltzes through each week looking forward to her dance class on Auckland’s North Shore. She’s become so quick on her feet that she’s been taking home gold medals in the Ballroom dancing championships, proving that all of her fancy footwork has paid off.

Every week, Eileen has three private lessons and two social classes, totalling seven hours of dancing, not counting her weekly “Fit for Life” women’s general exercise class.

She’s done it all without a puff, thanks to her pacemaker, and she still has energy to burn. “I can’t sit still. When I’ve had a dancing lesson, I feel like I can take on the world. I feel so alive!”

Eileen had always wanted to dance, but her late husband Garth wasn’t interested in lessons. “He would walk around the dance floor and do his duty, but I was in love, and nothing else mattered.”

Eileen, who had learned ballet as a child, put her dreams to one side to focus on raising a family after they moved from South Africa, where Eileen was born, and where Garth, a Kiwi, had been working in the insurance industry.

After Garth died in 2003, Eileen noticed a sign advertising the Tempo Dance Studio near her Auckland home in Birkenhead. “That was my sign,” she recalls.

Eileen was 75 years old and, by her own admission, quite stooped. She walked into the studio and introduced herself to the principal and teacher Mike Whitson, announcing, “I’ve always wanted to learn to dance, but you probably won’t be interested – I’m too old.”

Mike’s reply? “You’re never too old!”

He and Eileen laugh about how bossy she was at their first private lesson. “I had to tell her I was in charge,” says Mike. “She didn’t want to dance on her own. She now knows you have to learn the steps properly. But Eileen doesn’t do anything slowly.”

Her patience and commitment has seen Eileen rise through the national amateur bronze, silver and gold medal rankings to oscar status in Ballroom in 2009 and New Vogue last year.

For her ballroom oscar, Eileen danced the Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Slow Foxtrot and Quickstep. For her New Vogue oscar she performed 15 dances, earning an honours 97% to 99% pass.

With her dream fulfilled and her posture greatly improved, Eileen says she’ll never stop dancing or chasing her dreams.

The three weeks during which she had to hang up her satin shoes after having the pacemaker fitted were difficult.

“I couldn’t stand it,” she says.

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