I dedicated my latest book, The Dancing Master, to my own dance teacher:
In honor of Aurora Villacorta
ballroom dance instructor at the University of Illinois for more than twenty years.
Thanks, Miss V. Your lessons are forever with me.
Dance steps, yes, but so much more—etiquette, manners, respect, and grace.
Your classes were the most enjoyable of my college years.
I will never forget you.
I also named the hero’s sister after her (Aurora). These were simple things, and cost me very little. But I am reaping wonderful rewards…
During my college days, I took every ballroom dance class I could sign up for with this legendary 4 foot something Filipina who sternly taught etiquette and manners along with the waltz and tango. She was strict and she carried a stick, which she used to tap out the tempo and occasionally to prod a misbehaving pupil. Even so, we loved her and would have danced around the moon for her in hopes of winning one of her rare, magnificent smiles. After college, I even went on to teach a few dance classes of my own through community education. And I enjoyed drawing on all of these experiences to write The Dancing Master. Clearly, Miss V had a significant impact on my life. So, dedicating the book to her seemed right.
I had not seen nor spoken to Miss V in more than 25 years. But when the book came out, I looked up her address online (relieved to find no obituary notice) and sent her a letter and a book. What a joy to receive a letter back from her. And another one since! She is in her 80s now and still teaches ballroom dance—bum knee and all—at the YMCA on campus. At first, she confessed, she had no idea why someone named Julie Klassen was sending her a book. Then she read my letter, in which I had given her my maiden name, and it rang a bell. She opened the book and was surprised and delighted to find the dedication. (Turns out she enjoys Jane Austen, too. Who would have guessed?) In her letter, she shared some of her past travels and the fact that now that her knee keeps her closer to home, she enjoys corresponding with people she has met in various countries and especially with former students. She plans to send copies of the book to many of these friends.
Miss V even called me on the phone—and her voice sounded just the same and brought back so many memories. She said she loved the book and that I’d captured so well what it is like to be a dancing teacher. I told her she could no doubt recognize herself as she read some of the dance class passages, and she chuckled and agreed. She invited me to return to my alma mater someday soon to visit her. Perhaps attend a dance. She even offered to teach my sons “at least the waltz.” I would love that. My teenaged sons? I’m guessing not so much. Still, it would be wonderful to see her again. How satisfying to know this beloved teacher was deeply touched by my small gesture. She thanked me warmly for “honoring me in this way.” But the honor is mine.
What a gift this writing career has been. Allowing me to reconnect with people I have lost track of over the years–old friends and former teachers–as well as to connect with new reader-friends and fellow-authors like you. I am blessed, and you are all a part of that blessing! I appreciate each and every one of you.