At 73 years young, Johnny Bennet has the energy of someone half his age. Always cheery, Johnny is a one man welcoming crew and true asset to any dance establishment.
Originally from Saguache, Colorado, population 600, Johnny credits his small town attitude with the reason that he is so quick to welcome every newcomer to the dance floor. His Rocky Mountain town held community dances where he was taught to dance with everyone. He began dancing with girls his age, their mothers and the grandmothers. Now he continues that tradition in reverse by dancing with women at his current age, and their daughters and granddaughters.
This Septuagenarians first memories of dance were at the age of 6. Then in college he joined a square dance exhibition team. But after graduate school he focused on raising his kids, his career, and didn’t rejoin the dance world until he was 55 years old. In 1971 Johnny wanted to experience life outside of his tiny town, and dreamt of living outside of the U.S. However, due to financial constraints, he settled on moving to Los Angeles instead, thinking that might still count as a foreign cultural experience of sorts!
Johnny remembers when he first started dancing in the 80’s how some dancers were mean and wouldn’t dance with him. He then vowed that he’d never do the same to anyone, and has subsequently never turned anyone down for a dance. If he somehow happened to miss a dance with someone, he made it a point to find them to dance later. Many regulars say that they remember how he’d dance with them when no one else would. When asked how to encourage someone who is hesitant to try dance (or anything new), he said, “If you’re sitting on the sideline and you want to do it but are afraid… the faster you get out there, the faster that nervous feeling goes away.”
Johnny started with the Jitterbug, then became exposed to West Coast Swing (WCS) while attending country bars. It soon became his favorite dance. “You don’t ever quit learning, every dance is different, creative, it’s not like you’re supposed to do it this way or that.” Further elaborating why he loves it so, “In fact, I know of competition judges who tend to look for things they’ve never seen before when judging WCS competitions.”
When asked if his family is supportive of his fervent hobby, Johnny beams, “My kids are all for it and marvel at the pretty ladies in my Facebook posts!” He’s out dancing at least 3-4 nights a week and highly recommends it.”In fact, I told my son Tommy I was going to live to be 100. I feel bad that I’m not building up equity to leave you, but I’m just going to outlive you. So that solves the problem.” His son Tommy doesn’t doubt it for a moment. So much that Tommy gave Johnny a half time pep talk for his 50th birthday, telling his effervescent dad, “Now get out there and play harder in the second half of your life.”
When asked what he’d say to people of any age who think that they’re too old to dance or be active? Johnny passionately responded, “Look at me, if I can do it anyone can do it. I think that dancing itself is the secret.” He went on to stress its profound impact on his life : “I don’t think anything teaches you to move in a fluid, graceful manner like dance. It helps keeps you young and is so good for you because you make friends, get great exercise without pounding your body, and another proven benefit is that in a 15 year study of people and hobbies, it’s the best thing to keep your mind sharp. Couples dancing is the best because you have a puzzle between you, the music and your partner, and you’re constantly solving puzzles. “I don’t know of any hobby that provides all of that. Also, dance helps me retain the ability to move long after many people my age have sadly lost (their mobility).”
He added, “Some people ask,” Why do you still work and dance so much? “I’m old enough that yeah, something usually hurts, but overall I’m in very good health, and I’m afraid to not follow the pattern I’ve been (successfully) following, especially with all of the people who suddenly stop activity then quickly go downhill.The worst injury he’s dealt with was a torn calve muscle, which should’ve prevented him from walking for six weeks, yet he was back dancing in half that time. “Anyone who tells you dancing isn’t a sport hasn’t tried it!”
Johnny has made romantic connections within the dance scene, and dances so much that he hardly meets ladies from outside of the dance community. “I haven’t found my soul mate yet or ‘the one’ yet like Tammy Wynette sang, So I’ll just keep on falling in love until I get it right.” About once a year I meet someone I’m really interested in and I get crazy about somebody… when it doesn’t work out they become really good friends.”
In addition to meeting love interests, Johnny has traveled the world attending dance conventions while making life long friends overseas who he wouldn’t have otherwise met. He’s been to South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia several times, and has plans to return this Spring for another dance event. On his last trip he danced for 3 days and 8 nights straight and says no one has ever turned him down for a dance. He’s been welcomed so warmly that South Korea is on his short list of places he might like to retire.
Johnny’s ultimate dream is to get good enough at WCS that every follower is happy she accepted his invitation to dance, and to retire where housing costs are low, and a there is a WCS community to dance at his home dance space. Johnny explains, “The dance community is like an elastic small town in that we come together at dance conventions or social dances, and then we go back on rubber bands back home, and then we come back together again and function like a small community. If someone needs help with something, someone will step up and help, but on the other hand if a vicious rumor needs to be spread it will grow like wildfire… which is the same way it is in a small town.”
While Johnny has never formerly trained as a dancer, he has invested heavily into private lessons, constantly trying to improve. He began dancing WCS at ATOMIC when Ben Morris started his Thursday night social. After checking it out once, he became hooked and an instant regular. He emphatically added, “It’s been my favorite dance of the week for a decade now!” One thing that Johnny loves most about dancing at ATOMIC is that there are so many nice people to dance with that he frequently stays until the very end of the night.
- Johnny has kept the same 2 jobs for nearly 40 years! One of which is as a singer and guitarist at Joey’s BBQ restaurant in Chino. He believes that he might even hold an unofficial Guinness Record for longest steady gig at a restaurant!
- Johnny just happened to be one of my first WCS dances ever back when I didn’t even know the basics! He was patient, encouraging and helped convince me to keep at it. He’s a one man welcoming committee who helps makes the ballroom a safe place for newcomers.
- A dance style you might like to try that you haven’t yet? Country 2-step and night club 2-step.
- Passionate about wildlife photography, and may have focused solely on that if not so consumed with dance.
- Collects Ho scale model trains, and plans to have an enormous layout built around the dance floor in his future retirement home.
- Unlike many people who are finicky about the music they dance to, Johnny likes being surprised by DJs, and says that he has learned how to dance to a wider ranger of genres by dancing with younger people.