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Dancing with the Penzes

With no judges watching, ballroom dancing is all for fun with this quickstep couple.

You could say Frank and Jackie Penze are joined at the hip. With 18 years of teaching ballroom dancing together—not to mention 48 years of marriage—the pair has fox trotted their way across studios county-wide.

Anyone can do it, swears Jackie.

“It doesn’t matter your size or your age,” she says. “So what if you step wrong, this isn’t a competition; it’s a fun thing. It’s much easier than people think, even for those who don’t have rhythm. You’re not there to impress any judges. You’re there to have fun.”

And while you’re at it, you can learn a few moves to impress friends and family at weddings and other occasions.

“This is so you can go out to weddings and parties and any social event and just have fun,” says Jackie. “How many people sit at events and watch others dance and say ‘I wish I could do that?’”

It’s a good way for couples to spend time together away from the kids.

“It’s a wonderful couple activity,” she says. “To spend quality time together, a lot of couples will do ballroom dancing. They plan it as a date night. If the children are in college or even high school couples have time to go out and do this.”

Ballroom dancing is also a good way to unwind from your day, she says.

“You could be all stressed out at the end of the week,” Jackie says. “You go to a dance class, and five or 10 minutes later you feel better.”

Not Just For the Older Set

Ballroom dancing isn’t just for older people anymore, Jackie says.

“When we were both growing up, ballroom dancing was old people stuff,” she says. “Especially with Dancing With the Stars now, you see the younger people doing it.”

Jackie grew up with an appreciation for dancing, saying, “My parents were entrepreneurs, and they were great dancers.” As a couple, Frank and Jackie liked to watch others dance.

“We always had an inclination of wanting to dance and admired other people who could,” she says. “Our daughter was getting married and we said, ‘OK, it’s time we learned.’ Then we went on and trained and began to teach.”

“We separate the men and women,” she says. “I go through the ladies part.

It can be frustrating for beginners, she says. Some dances, like the Fox Trot, are more difficult with more precise timing involved.

“A lot of the moves in dancing are very alien to people because they just don’t do this in normal life,” she says. “We just have fun. We love to see them learn how to dance.”

It’s All About the Shoes

The key to successful ballroom dancing is what you put on your feet, Jackie says.

“What’s most important is to wear the correct shoes—ones with a smooth bottom,” she says. “You can’t dance in men’s motorcycle boots. You can’t slide properly with gym shoes. Any kind of shoe you can slide in works.”

And, if you’re still struggling, just take your shoes off and dance in your socks, she says.

The Penzes contract with park districts and dance studios, including Crystal Lake, Cary, Lake in the Hills and McHenry park districts and Health Bridge Fitness Center, to offer lessons. They also choreograph newlyweds’ first dances.

To help further spread their love of ballroom dance, the couple founded the Fox Valley Chapter of USA Dance 11 years ago. The group sponsors monthly dances, many held at the Dole Mansion. “This chapter is McHenry County although anyone can come,” Jackie says. For information on lessons and workshops call the Penzes at 847-639-8699 or contact them on their web site at

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