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Dancer steals spotlight in national competition

Ballroom dancer Darlene Carter wins in six categories

Created date

September 21st, 2009

[caption id="attachment_3094" align="alignright" width="228" caption="Dancer Darlene Carter of Oak Crest has competed more than 200 times. She recently kicked up her heels in a national competition in Sarasota, Fla. (Photo by Jeff Getek)"][/caption] While dance competitions are heating up the small screen with hit shows like Dancing With The Stars and So You Think You Can Dance there s one lady who knows better than anyone how to make those steps look effortless. Darlene Carter, 81, has been dancing since age three and competed well over 200 times, including internationally in Vienna and China. She most recently stole the spotlight earlier this year in a national competition in Sarasota, Fla. The win in Florida has been my favorite, I guess because of my age, says Carter. I thought I might not be able to hold up or have the stamina for this competition.

Personal victory

Carter typically competes against dancers half her age. In fact, her dance partner James Helmich is 30 years her junior. When Helmich, who owns a dance studio in Florida, found out about the competition in Sarasota, he didn t waste any time inviting Carter. James called me and asked if I would be interested in competing. It took a little coaxing because there is a lot of strenuous practicing that goes into training for dance, says Carter. You re judged as soon as you step onto the dance floor, so you ve really got to be in shape and on top of your game. Carter trained like an athlete for the competition, working out in the Oak Crest fitness center and running the stairs at local high school stadiums. The long distance between Carter and Helmich, who lives in Florida, made learning the dance steps a bit tricky; but through the use of technology, Carter was able to practice the steps via DVD and then meet with Helmich the day before the competition to rehearse. The dancing duo won six categories: American Smooth, American Rhythm, International Standard, International Latin, Freestyle Waltz, and Freestyle Argentine Tango. Anyone can learn the steps, claims Carter. But you have to feel the music and let the rhythm take over your body in order to really be a good dancer. I lose myself when I m on the dance floor. I m such a different person when I m dancing.

Life s a dance

Carter met Helmich in 1990 when she and her husband, John, moved to Florida as he sought treatment for Parkinson s disease. After hanging up her dance shoes to care for her husband, she reignited her passion for the art when on a whim she visited a Fred Astaire dance studio. My doctor told me that I wasn t taking care of myself, explains Carter. My passion was dancing, so I went back and brushed up to see what new steps they were doing, and that s where I met James. After John s passing, Carter moved back to Maryland and found solace in dance. For the last six years, she has called Oak Crest, a 62-plus community in Parkville, home. She is currently taking salsa dance classes there. Despite the distance, Helmich has remained Carter s first choice among her dance partners. Over the years, I ve had four different partners, says Carter. But James has been my partner the longest. He is such a beautiful dancer. You have to know each other s rhythm, and we just mesh so well together. Carter says she will compete again if the opportunity presents itself. Dancing has helped me stay healthy and given me confidence, says Carter. It s really brought me happiness over the years. Just the sound of music makes me feel good, she adds. I can be sitting anywhere, and as soon as I hear music, my toes start wiggling.