Buz McCreary dips his wife, Debi, during a competitive dance routine at the Michigan Classic 2012 in Detroit, Mich.
CLEARWATER – For Debi and Buz McCreary of Clearwater, there is no better way to move the body than to dance.
They have been involved in competitive dancing for nearly 20 years. Debi said they started out with country dance.
“We mostly do swing now – West Coast Swing. We started out in country dancing in the mid-’90s and then it evolved into West Coast Swing,” she said. “We also do a little ballroom dancing as well. We do line dancing; we do it all.”
The McCrearys began to dance because Debi had danced back in her college days. Then, some years later, a personal tragedy got her back into it.
“I lost a daughter to crib death, and I was very sad. (A) girlfriend had an idea that she hoped would cheer me up,” she said. “She took me dancing and clogging, and it worked. It gave me the will to live and to get out of sadness.”
Sadness is something that has been part of the lives of both Debi and Buz, as their careers have been spent working with cancer patients. Buz, 69, is a retired oncologist who worked at Morton Plant Hospital. Debi is a part-time oncology nurse, still active. She said they encounter plenty of sadness in their everyday lives. Dancing helps them cope.
Competitive dancing takes a lot of work. There are many practices involved, especially for a new routine. Buz said a new routine can change your ranking in a hurry.
“We won the Tampa Bay Classic in 2012,” he said. “We got another first-place finish a year ago, but our new routine has put us back in the middle of the pack.”
The new routine is to a Ben Harper song titled “Steal My Kisses,” and it involves some complicated new moves that they continue to work on.
Neither Buz nor Debi could come up with a definition of West Coast Swing other than it was danced to all forms of up-to-date popular music. The uninitiated might call it a form of jiving, but with certain elements and steps that are essential when dancing competitively.
However it is described, it is difficult, Buz said.
“It is technically more challenging than East Coast Swing,” he said. “There are a lot of technical elements that are all right once you get used to them.”
Dancing has kept the McCrearys more active in a social sense as well. Debi said they have had many positive experiences thanks to dancing.
“We go all over the world,” she said. “Dancing is a universal language, and we can dance with our friends all over the world. We’ve been to Paris, Canada, in Edmonton, and just recently, we were in competitions in Atlanta and Texas on back-to-back weekends.”
They have been a successful duo over the years. They won seven country and western dance titles, and lately Debi said they have participated in what is called Jack and Jill competitions for West Coast Swing.
“That is where the guys and the girls all line up and are paired off at random,” she said. “So you have to dance with someone you’ve never danced with before and to music you haven’t heard before. You are judged on how you do with your new partners.”
The McCrearys compete in the masters division – for dancers older than 50 – but that doesn’t stop them from meeting and befriending dancers who are much younger.
“We’re quite a bit older than the average dancer, but the younger ones pull us along,” said Buz. “We’ve gone to movies with them, skating, softball games. They are all dancers but are active in so many things. We’re dance parents to a lot of the younger people, and they include us all the time.”
The McCrearys have a no-quit mentality when it comes to dancing.
“After a competition is over, we’ll keep dancing,” Debi said. “We’ll dance all night long. We’ll stay up until 4 or 5 in the morning.
“Well, Buz goes to bed around 2,” she added, laughing.
All this dancing keeps the couple in shape. Debi said others should consider taking it up.
“It keeps us physically active. We work out so we can dance,” she said. “Moving your body is good. Even if it is line dancing or simple things, you have to keep your body moving. We have a lot of dancers in their 80s and 90s, and they are all moving.”
As for the future, Debi said the couple has no plans to ever stop dancing.
“We won’t quit,” she said. “We’re going to be like Fred Astaire. We’ll be dancing in our 90s until we can’t do it anymore.”