How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
Two, if they are Bill and Billie Angel of the Highlands
Residents of the Highlands recently got a taste of what is involved in competitive dancing from two of their own - Bill and Billie Angel.
Bill and Billie danced competitively before they met and married 20 years ago. And although she was based in Portland and he was based in Seattle, it was dancing that brought them together.
At a presentation at the Highlands Clubhouse on June 9, they showed videos of Billie dancing at a variety of competitions while they explained the intricacies of the profession.
"Professional competitions are not like 'Dancing with the Stars,' because men always wear shirts and you don't have to know gymnastics," Billie said. "But that show has brought ballroom dancing back into popularity."
She listed the various dances they did in competitions, such as the fox trot, tango, waltz, samba and rumba, noting, "However, since we last danced professionally 20 years ago, they are new variations, and the dancers now wear as few clothes as legal."
After a divorce, Billie started taking dance lessons to do something different, and she displayed a natural talent and was soon dancing competitively.
Bill had a similar story: He was going through a divorce along with legal and business issues, and his friend/mentor urged him to do something different and take ballroom dance classes "to be smooth in all your relationships."
Bill's friend kept nagging him until Bill decided to sign up for a series of 10 lessons just to get his friend off his back.
"I imagined myself as John Travolta and found I loved it," he said. "It changed my life."
Meanwhile, Billie was taking classes at the Fred Astaire Studio in Tigard, and despite the fact that she couldn't count the steps or the beat, she excelled. In fact, a professional dancer told Billie's instructor, "Don't force her to count - she does it by feel."
Billie added, "Finally, at 50, I realized I didn't have to be and do everything like other people. I didn't do well in school, and this showed me I didn't have to do something the way others do it, and I was winning awards."
At one point, Billie wanted to do rhythm dances, and her instructor said, "You are not Rita Moreno - you are Grace Kelly."
Billie explained, "At first, I thought that was good, but then I said, 'She's not a dancer,' and the instructor said, 'Exactly.'"
As the Highlands audience watched videos of Billie dancing in beautiful gowns at competitions, she said, "I couldn't afford to buy costumes for the competitions, so I made all my own costumes. I went to my first competition in a borrowed dress, looked at the other dresses and thought, I can make that. I never spent more than $100 on materials for a dress."
In fact, Billie's scrapbook is filled with photos and judges' score sheets from competitions, and several of the judges wrote that her costumes were beautiful. Years later, after Billie had stopped dancing professionally and sold her dresses at a resale shop, a woman she met in a restroom recognized her name from the label in the costume and said, "I have one of your dresses!"
Billie added, "My homemade dresses are living on!"
Dancing scores are based on the entrance, choreography, interpretation, showmanship, execution and the exit, according to Billie, who also has authored several books of fiction about people using their sixth sense and intuition.
"What does it take to be a winner?" Bill asked. "You must instill enthusiasm in the judges and become one with your partner. The very top performers say they are inspired by a higher power. You also need to be in the moment - don't worry about the past or think about the future."
Billie followed that credence while dancing at a competition in Seattle, when she suddenly felt a pain in her foot that felt like a hot poker going up her leg.
Her partner knew something was wrong but kept leading and she kept following, and they won first place.
Ice didn't help, and the next day Billie drove three ladies back to Portland and then drove to a hospital, where she was told she had broken two bones in her right foot and also had soft tissue damage from continuing to dance on it.
Billie's roommate told her, "You even beat me with a broken foot," and after no dancing for eight weeks, Billie won the first competition she entered after returning to the dance floor.
Bill had his own woes on the dance floor, recalling that he did very well in his first competition as a novice, "and it went to my head." At his second competition, he was well prepared but maybe a little over-confident, and as he started his routine, amnesia hit and he came in last.
Billie and Bill met casually while they were both dancing in Seattle when he was still married.
Years later, after they had stopped dancing, he came to Portland for a dancing showcase, and they re-met. He paid a lot of attention to her, which made her nervous until he said, "I'm not married anymore."
They started seeing each other, and while they were compatible, their one big difference was that she was trained in the American style of dancing, and he was trained in the International style, which didn't lead to harmony when they went out dancing.
"We started blending our styles and took private lessons," Bill said. "Wherever we went, people just loved our dancing."
The Angels moved into the Highlands in April 2008 and that first year they were invited to decorate a Christmas tree in the Clubhouse so the residents could say their tree was decorated by angels.