He’s 81 years old. His knees are bad. But, boy, can Bill Mael tango.
Mael devotes six months of each year to fishing for kokanee salmon in Montana. The other six he dances.
You’ll find the Valley dance instructor waltzing, swinging and cha-cha-cha-ing across Spokane-area dance floors nearly every day of the week. He has more than 80 students, none of whom are obligated to pay for the lessons. When he receives donations, he gives half to local senior centers.
“I’m in it for the fun of it,” said Mael, a retired meat cutter and Union Pacific Railroad car inspector. “When it ceases to be fun, I’ll cease to teach.”
Mael first learned to dance from his mother, a music lover who taught him to two-step. He danced through his high school and young adult years. He met his wife, Leatha, at a Four Lakes Grange dance in 1947.
“There’s something there when you and your partner are in step,” he said.
They were. And they married two months later.
They’ve been dancing partners for 50 years now, Leatha said. But Bill has always had the stronger passion for dance. Six years ago, he volunteered to teach ballroom dancing at the Spokane Valley Senior Center. Soon, the Corbin and South Hill senior centers were calling him.
Mael now teaches at all three places. Some of his students come to every one.
“I take beginners and advanced dancers, with or without partners,” Mael said. And he’s never turned anyone away.
He doesn’t mind working with novice dancers, or those who’ve become a bit rusty, like Joe Skalicky.
The 79-year-old widower first came to Mael’s class three years ago.
“I hadn’t danced in 40 years,” the former rancher said. The steps didn’t always come easy to him, but the Valley man kept at it - even after five bypass surgeries and other health problems put him in a wheelchair.
He’s now back on his feet - and more graceful than ever.
“I have students who are 75 years old and their spouse has passed away and they can’t dance a step,” Mael said. “It makes me proud to go out and see them dancing.”
Mael’s class is popular, in part due to his abundant patience. He goes step by step, teaching the samba, balboa, polka, tango, rhumba, western swing and several waltzes. It’s never stressful or embarrassing, his students say, just fun.
“He’s a great instructor,” said student Lorraine Pintler. “He just makes you float along when you dance with him.
Moving around the dance floor, Mael’s body seems to betray its 81 years. His face is serene. His troubles are forgotten.
His sore knees suddenly stop aching.
It’s a phenomenon many of his dancers have experienced.
“I think it’s the tempo of the music,” said Pat Roe, a dance enthusiast who helps Mael teach his classes.
“You never hurt when you’re dancing.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo