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LOVE AT FIRST DANCE by Rosine Bena

Valentine’s Day is the customary celebration of love and romance in many regions of the world, and so I thought it fitting to share a love story that began with a dance, blossomed through dance and, I like to think, ended in a dance – if it has ever ended at all.

Anne Capozzi and Edward Bena fell in love on the dance floor.  It was 1948 and Anne’s 16th birthday.  Anne and her date, Billy Karpinsky, double-dated with Eddy Bena and his date. Ed and Bill were good friends, but Anne and Eddy had never met.

Anne found herself wanting to use the restroom which was across a very crowded dance floor. There appeared no way to get across the floor easily so Eddy offered to dance Anne across the floor.  Two hours later Anne and Ed’s dates went in search of the pair only to find them still dancing.

Anne was in between dance gigs and studying ballet with Madam Tarasova and Alfredo Corvino in New York City.  Eddy was recently out of the Navy and also studying ballet on the GI Bill with the hopes of becoming a professional ballroom dancer.

For the next two years they danced together socially and occasionally on the same stage when Anne was performing as a member of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet and Ed was hired as an “extra” in the dance scenes.

They married in 1950.  Anne opened her own ballet studio, and Ed took on several jobs to make ends meet, including painting.  (He was a talented visual artist).  I was born in 1951.

Mom was always a stickler for a proper way to begin a dance.  She would always say: “The man must offer his hand to the lady, and the lady must lift her hand up – wrist first and let her fingers float down softly as she places her hand in his.”

My parents danced together socially often, but I only saw them actually perform together on stage once. It was in a beautiful ballet pas de deux (a ballet term meaning “step of two”) that my mother choreographed to the music of Rachmanioff: “Rhapsody On A Theme of Paganini” (the 18th variation).  I was only three years old, but I remember it as an amazingly beautiful piece, and I was so excited that I screamed out proudly from the audience: “That’s my Mommy!”

My parents each shared their love of dance with me. My Mom was a very knowledgeable and artistic master ballet teacher, and my Dad was an amazing partner in ballet pas de deux and in ballroom.  (I do not think I would have ever danced professionally were it not for my love of pas de deux which I got from my Dad).

In 1963 we moved from New Jersey to Washington D.C. so that I could attend the Academy of the Washington School of Ballet (WSB).  My mother eventually became the Assistant Director of WSB.

In 1970 my parents purchased Peninsula Ballet Theatre School and moved to the SF Bay Area. Together they built an amazing, internationally known ballet school and created a professional ballet company that was reviewed as comparable to San Francisco Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. My mother directed the company, and my Dad was stage manager and designed many of the sets for the productions. I joined them there in 1972.

I retired from the stage in 1991, and my parents danced together for the last time in public at that Gala performance banquet in October.  My Dad passed away in January of 1993, and I remember the family being left alone with Dad’s coffin to say our goodbyes. My Mom reached out into the air and lifted her hand “wrist up and fingers floating down” and placed her arms as if she were dancing with a partner and she appeared to dance once again with my Dad.

My mom never remarried, as she remained in love with my Dad the rest of her life. She passed away in 2008, and my daughter and I had the honor of being at her side. She had been quite ill with cancer and was in the hospital in Redwood City.  She was unconscious, eyes closed and struggling to breathe.  We knew she would not last long. Suddenly her breathing became normal and she opened her eyes. My daughter and I thought that she suddenly had recovered and looked on in amazement. She sat up as if she saw someone ahead of her and then she lifted up her hand “wrist first and fingers floating down” and then her spirit passed.  I like to think she went to dance with my Dad.

In this time of social distancing, touching is something to be cherished.  On this day devoted to celebrating romance, I hope that you are able to enjoy a dance with your loved one.

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