Retired navy officer Desmond Harper had two choices after his wife Dawn died almost 18 months ago: feel sorry for himself or get on with life.
So the Rooty Hill resident hit the dance floor for the first time in 12 years and hasn’t looked back. Mr Harper, 82, joined St Marys Dance Centre 12 months ago, when he teamed up with teacher Janelle Guff.
He was ready for his first medal testing by July, when he received two bronze levels. Mr Harper did 16 dances with Mrs Guff at his next medal testing in December, when he reached two bronze and four silver levels in ballroom and Latin dancing.
He’s now eyeing gold at his next medal testing in July. ‘‘It was lonely in an empty house so I went dancing for the company,’’ he said.
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‘‘I wasn’t sure about competitive dancing as I didn’t know how I measured up.
‘‘A lot of work has gone into it since.’’
Mr Harper paid tribute to his dance partner, a professional dancer, teacher and choreographer.
‘‘I’m lucky to have everything in one bundle,’’ he said.
‘‘With Janelle’s help, I will get gold next time.’’
Mr Harper, whose favourite dance is the Pasa Doble, met his late wife at a dance at Luna Park.
He was in the Royal Australian Navy for 31 years and met the Queen on her first visit to Australia in 1954 while on board HMAS Australia.
He received an Order of Australia in the 1976 Australia Day Honours for his military service.
Mr Harper still jogs four kilometres five mornings a week on top of dancing four times a week.
‘‘Dancing has been great for the body and mind,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s a steep learning curve. My ambition is to dance in front of a crowd.’’
He doesn’t know what he would do without dancing.
‘‘I’d be very downcast, mourning the loss of my wife,’’ he said.
‘‘There’s still a black hole but dancing has lifted me out of the bilges.’