One might wonder what sort of husband would permit his wife to dance with another man for 25 years of their 36-year marriage and not get upset. It's not just an occasional thing either. It's at least twice a week!
Dancing has played quite a role in the life of Marilyn Stechert, and a number of men have influenced her avocation as a competitive ballroom dancer.
Marilyn was born in Salida and grew up in that part of Littleton now known as Centennial. She'd taken ballet lessons as a child when she was too short to even reach the bar, doing her stretching exercises on a piano bench instead.
The young ballerina studied with Covillo-Parker, the dance team credited with later founding the Colorado Ballet in 1960. "It was at their first studio on Main Street in Littleton," she recalled. In her youth, she danced parts of the "Nutcracker" produced by Colorado Concert Ballet, the first true ballet company in Denver, back in the days when the Bonfils Theatre was still on East Colfax.
Marilyn pursued a career in education, studying at CU Boulder and experiencing a semester in Leningrad in the USSR (now St. Petersburg, Russia) where she did get to see a Russian ballet. Not being a dance major in college, her opportunities for classes were few and far between, representing a period when dance was not her focal point.
Following a career in linguistics, she taught several foreign languages in Jefferson County Public Schools at the junior high and high school levels, retiring from Conifer High School in 2007. Actually, if you ask her, she'll say she speaks English, Spanish, Russian "and a bit of French."
When her father started dancing with the Fred Astaire Dance Studio and then competing for fun about 30 years ago, it rekindled Marilyn's interest in ballroom dancing. "It looked like so much fun," she told me from the other side of a cafeteria table during the evacuation from the Bluebell Fire, a conversation prompted by mutual friend Barbara MacEldowney.
Marilyn had signed up for lessons with her husband, Tim, shortly after observing her father's enjoyment and soon began formal competition. But Tim wasn't especially fond of having other people look at him while he was dancing, so he allowed another man to take the lead. For the past 25 years she's been practicing twice a week with a semi-retired neurologist in Denver, and competing nationwide.
Marilyn and Peter specialize in "American Smooth" – the waltz, fox trot, Viennese waltz – and travel all over the country to compete. They've advanced with age to the senior division, for those age 55 and above.
Dressing for the occasion is half the fun. Dancers wear clothes especially designed for dance movement, she explains. She's had costumes custom made by Joey Santos, the Colorado designer of premiere clothing for figure skaters and ballroom dancers. "It's surprising how much a handful of Swarovski crystals can cost – and there are a lot of them on a gown!" Custom designs by Santos can cost as much as $2,000 or more, according to his website. Marilyn now fulfills the need for specialty clothing by buying from others and then reselling the gowns and shoes for the look of a more extensive wardrobe. Her partner wears a specially-designed black suit.
There's no time to switch costumes between competitions at a single event, so one costume should do it each time she attends competition; but one time her luggage arrived a couple of days late for a competition in Miami. Fortunately, another dancer loaned her an outfit to wear, and she bought another pair of shoes. Since then she plays it safe by carrying her gown, shoes and other necessities on board whenever she travels.
It was her dancing coach who served as matchmaker 25 years ago when Tim opted out. At about the same time another man who'd been introduced to ballroom dancing by a friend had been told "You'll never be good enough for me," and was also in need of a partner.
"We have a similar outlook," Marilyn says of the quarter-century, award-winning alliance with Dr. Peter Quintero. "We work at it hard and bring a sense of humor. Some people are so exacting that their partnerships don't work out."
Not unlike a marriage, I suppose.
Marilyn and her partner practice their dance steps twice a week year-round, adding a third night when closer to competition. "We try to attend four competitions a year," she says, explaining that they have to compete in a qualifying round to be eligible for nationals. They've travelled coast to coast, to cities like Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, San Diego, San Francisco, Montreal, L.A. and Miami. There are at least 10 qualifying competitions each year throughout the country.
Just this weekend they participated in the Colorado Starball at the Westminster Westin Hotel, placing third in the Senior American Smooth Championship. Tim was there in the audience, as he is at all local competitions. "He's very supportive of my travels, taking lessons, money investments in gowns, etc.," Marilyn says.
Marilyn's more often seen without the gown and crystals though.... You just might spot her donning an apron and serving soup at one of the Empty Bowls events held by the Ladies Guild of the Mountain Resource Center. Or with binoculars counting birds. She also finds time to serve on the board of directors for Bootstraps, keeping students and education in the forefront.
Tim, a computer programer for Sprint, finds pleasure birding with Evergreen Audubon where Marilyn also volunteers on occasion. And Marilyn shows her support when he participates in the Double Triple Bypass by doing sag duty.
And when asked about "Dancing with the Stars," she admits to having followed the popular show on TV "but not as much anymore ... I enjoyed the actual dancing, costumes, makeup and choreography, but I got tired of all the background drama." And she can't handle it when they choose music that inappropriate for the dance. She should know!