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By Terry Dean
Ann Dant has never had a birthday party thrown for her. That's going to change Oct. 25. Dant turns 90 that day. The Oaks senior apartment complex near Humphrey and South Blvd., Dant's home the last four years, is hosting the celebration. And someone Dant met only in August is organizing the party.
"She looks so great and she's still able to get around and do things on her own," said Gwendolyn Crayton, who sells cosmetics.
Crayton gave a presentation at The Oaks two months ago. That's when she first met Dant, who became a customer. It was when Crayton went to cash Dant's check that she learned from the bank teller — who knows the soon-to-be 90 year old lady — about Dant's hobby and passion.
"She said, 'Oh, and did you know that she's a dancer?" Crayton recalled. "I like to dance myself, so we have that in common."
Dant's love of dancing began in the mid-1980s when she was in her 60s. It became her favorite hobby. Dant's looking forward to cutting a rug at her birthday party, and she'll need a dance partner. Crayton's also been looking and has a couple of potential suitors. Dant has some advice for her partner that she's learned over the years.
"Don't look at your feet," she said, sitting at her kitchen table inside her small, comfortable Oaks apartment. Crayton is there too on this particular day, looking at more photos Dant has brought out. Most are of her dancing — swing is her forte. She has newspaper clippings of photos taken of her dancing. One is from a February 1996 Wednesday Journal taken during a Valentine's Day dance at Oak Park Arms, where Dant lived for 15 years before moving to The Oaks. She was crowned queen at the Arms' 1992 Senior Prom.
She hasn't lost her grace, on or off the dance floor. She's decked out in red on this particular visit by Crayton; her hair a stylish 'Golden Girl' white. She admitted to being a little nervous for her photo and interview with Wednesday Journal.
"It's been a while since I've done this. I hardly slept at all last night," Dant said, noting she had been up since dawn.
But she's excited about her party. Along with swing, she can dance the rumba and a little tango. She learned to do the Charleston in 1992 — she's dressed as a 1920s "flapper" in another photo taken from a party that year.
"It took me two months to learn it, but it was fun. I really enjoyed it," Dant said.
Dant comes from a large family — she's one of 11 children; the second oldest. But she's lost track of her remaining siblings. She's been married before but has no children. The fact that Dant doesn't have any close relatives also moved Crayton to do something for her.
"When I found out that she didn't have any family, I wanted to step in and do this for her," Crayton said.
The two ladies sit, talk and laugh together at Dant's kitchen table.
"Is there anyone in particular you'd like to invite to the party," Crayton asks in a slightly loud voice—Dant says she doesn't hear as well as she used to.
"The older you get the more things start shutting down," she says with a smile. Crayton breaks into a laugh.
She's looking forward to her party. Dant and Crayton go over some details for the event. The birthday girl would like to hear some Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, or any kind of big band music. And don't forget it's got to be swing, she says.
Dant hopes to have a dance partner who's a strong lead.
"You've got to have a good leader and he's got to know the moves. No two-left feet," she says, breaking into that familiar, sly smile.
Dant admits that she's enjoying life now more than ever. She mentions having had a rough childhood, some of her siblings having grown up in foster homes, but she doesn't dwell on her past.
"It was like we didn't know each other because we didn't really grow up together," says Dant.
As she and Crayton wrap up their visit, Dant gets a framed photo from her coffee table showing her, her brother and a sister as little kids.
Dant was born in 1920, the beginning of the decade known as the "Roaring 20s." An ailing Woodrow Wilson was wrapping up his presidency that year, handing the office over to Warren G. Harding.
She moved to Chicago in 1941 and years later to Oak Park. She retired in 1983 after 36 years working at GTE. Dant says she's on cloud nine waiting for her party and is so appreciative of Crayton's effort.
"I don't know how I'll ever thank her," Dant said.
"She doesn't owe me anything. She deserves this," Crayton said.