Stress relief is quickstep away for fleet-footed registrar's aide
By Hope Green
Now that all of her children are grown, Jean Rundlett might have the luxury of resting her feet after a day's work. But when dusk falls three nights a week, this BU staffer heads for a Brighton dance studio, dons a pair of chrome-soled high heels, and steps energetically to the rhythms of Strauss and Sinatra.
Rundlett, the administrative assistant to University Registrar Florence Bergeron, finds joy in mastering the world's most intricate and elegant forms of social dance. Her daughter, Gail (SED'77), is a professional instructor who runs the Tempo Dance Center. There Jean spends many a night training for tournaments -- and recharging her spirit.
"Learning to dance is such a positive thing," she says. "It's a social life, it's exercise, and it's good for the brain, because you're always trying to remember new routines. Some nights I go into the studio and think, I'm so tired, what do I want a lesson for? Then I get so involved in the lesson I forget all my worries."
Ballroom dancing has seen a worldwide surge in popularity of late, shedding its stuffy reputation and increasingly attracting younger participants to social and competitive events. BU's student-run Ballroom Dance Club boasts 200 members.
Yet Rundlett knew the pleasures of partnered dancing long before its current revival. An avid dancer in high school, she had few opportunities to practice after she married, but her children, Gail, Robert (MET'90), and Dana, all competed in junior ballroom events around the age of 10. Years later, Gail turned professional and persuaded her mother to take lessons at a YMCA.
Eventually, at her daughter's urging, Jean entered her first pro-am competition, in Cherry Hill, N.J. (The pro-am division allows an amateur to be judged individually while a professional instructor leads.) Since then she has traveled to events as distant as North Carolina and Montreal to see how her technical skills measure up, and has been rewarded for her efforts with numerous ribbons and medals.
This fall mother and daughter are preparing for the Commonwealth Classic, which Gail organizes each November in Lowell, Mass.
"When I was new at competing, it was very nerve-wracking," Jean says. "It was a whole new thing, with hundreds of people watching. Now I'm much more relaxed, and I don't think about the judges any more. I just dance for enjoyment, and when people cheer me on, that makes it even better."
Rundlett has worked with two instructors during the past 15 years. One of them, it so happens, taught Cher the bossa nova for one of her scenes in the 1990 film Mermaids. Rundlett's current teacher, Larry Miller, used to partner with Gail for tournaments, and at one time the pair were New England's Latin-dance champions. "Each of my teachers has had a different style of teaching, but I've had fun with both of them," the elder Rundlett says.
Dancing in a pair is an art that requires both members to understand each other's signals to make space for a twirl, perhaps, or to duck under an arm. "It's not as if the man is shoving the woman around the floor," Rundlett says. "It's a matter of communication. As my daughter says, you give your partner an invitation to make the next move."
As for her favorite steps, the more complex the better. "The fox-trot is one of the more challenging dances, and it's so beautiful. Even though it's very popular, it takes years and years to make it look good."
A continual source of inspiration to Rundlett are the tournament divisions for contestants 80 and up. Someday, she plans to be part of that group. "My philosophy is, you don't stop dancing because you grow old," she says. "You grow old because you stop dancing."